Phil Lamason is a World War II hero, respected overseas, but in New Zealand his story was little known until the airing of a gripping documentary The Lost Airmen of Buckenwald.

For the past year Central Hawke's Bay writer Hilary Pederson has been working on Lamason's amazing story and the trust which has been vested with the story by the Lamason family hopes to have the book launched in October next year.

Phil Lamason.
Phil Lamason.

Mr Lamason, who died in 2012 aged 95, flew Stirling, Lancaster and Wellington bombers in World War II and then went on to save the lives of 168 airmen who were incarcerated with him in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

And while much has been made of his time flying Lancaster bombers, research has now revealed he spent much more time - some 1100 to 1300 hours- flying Stirlings.


"We've had a lot of work to do to research and understand Phil's story," Dannevirke's Mike Harold, said.

"The book is still a work in progress at this stage and we're just starting to talk with publishers. It's been a huge job and what we've found out in the 14 months since we committed to this story has actually shown us what we didn't know."

With the loss of the Lamason's Rua Roa home to fire in 1960, many records, memorabilia and photographs were lost.

"We needed the help of extended family and along with John and Debbie Lamason here in Dannevirke, we're very grateful to Phil's daughter Trish and her husband Graeme Simmonds in Auckland," Mr Harold said.

"Graeme had talked at length to Phil about the technical aspects of aircraft and this has been invaluable."

Glenys Scott, a personal friend of Mr Lamason's, has also put a tremendous amount of effort and energy into researching his life, working to achieve excellence.

"It's been important to check anecdotal evidence and we've had to go looking to the best of our ability, including researching RAF archives in London," Mr Harold said. "We had to wade through notes of bombing missions which was quite a job as Phil was with three squadrons during his time in the RAF.

"Now we understand more about Phil's war and for this to be a meaningful piece of work this all had to be done."


But the biggest challenge has been co-ordinating many fragments relating to the Buchenwald experience.

"This is one hell of a story," Mr Harold said. "We've also researched Phil's family background to build a picture of why he became the person he did. Much of his immediate family didn't know either. We've shot down lots of myths, but we've also come to understand the importance of Phil's story to New Zealand's military history and the international significance of it too."

The 168 airmen Mr Lamason saved from death in Buckenwald came from around the world and their families all acknowledged they owe a huge debt of gratitude to their hero.

"The importance of Phil's story to our town and district is something we should all celebrate and be proud of," Mr Harold said.

Filmmaker Mike Dorsey of California produced The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald. "I tell people that Phil's actions in Buchenwald were a lesson in leadership. His story should be required reading for everyone, from those in the military to those in the corporate boardroom," he said.

"And we must remember he did this while in his 20s. I remember the foolishness of my 20s and what Phil did simply boggles my mind. I've interviewed airmen, who, even in their 90s, say they would still follow him just about anywhere."


Mr Harold said Mr Lamason was still held in high esteem by many, but his story was not well known in New Zealand.

"Even his son John said when he read the first drafts of Hilary's book he wept," he said.

"The Lamason family have vested this story with us and it's so important nationally and internationally and it's to be part of the heritage of our district. This is a story for the community to benefit from and celebrate. Little places like Dannevirke need to do what they can to say 'hey we're here'. There is huge potential in this story for our district."

When the book is launched in Dannevirke, it will coincide with a display of memorabilia.

"This is what Phil would have wanted. He would be chuffed if something good or dynamic comes out of his story and his family do not want a monument," Mr Harold said.

"Storytelling is a small-town resource and we have an abundance of compelling local stories, including Phil Lamason's.


"I've seen the power of storytelling and how it connects to people. History happened in little places like this and we need to explore the destination possibilities around Phil's story."