More than two years of dedication and hard work honouring Dannevirke's war hero Phil Lamason has come to fruition with the completion of his biography, I Would Not Step Back ...
Last week, Waipukurau author Hilary Pedersen saw for the first time a copy of the completed hard copy of the book which has been her life for two years, and she was thrilled.
"It 's been a hard slog but ultimately very worthwhile," Hilary said. "I'm sure there will be no shortage of potential buyers."
Mike Harold, a member of the Phil Lamason Heritage Centre Trust, said the book has been eagerly anticipated by many in our community and beyond.
The biography project has been co-ordinated by the trust and is the culmination of more than two years of research, processing and writing.
"During this time the project team has received wonderful support and encouragement from interested people and organisations locally, nationally and internationally," Mr Harold said.
"Hilary worked closely with noted Wellington-based photographer Sal Criscillo to create a very comprehensive and visually rich hard copy version of our local World War II hero's resonating life story."
The Dannevirke News was fortunate to read early galleys and see the completed hard-copy book. It's a story which brings tears to your eyes and makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It also gives rise to admiration for the team who have worked so hard to bring this amazing story to life.
And with six advance copies in Dannevirke, Mr Harold said he and the Lamason family are very excited.
"We believe we have honoured the legacy of Phil well and we trust people will enjoy the read," he said.
Mr Lamason, who lived and farmed at Rua Roa, died in 2012 aged 95. He flew Stirling, Lancaster and Wellington bombers in World War II, and went on to save the lives of 168 airmen who were incarcerated with him in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
Glenys Scott, a personal friend of Mr Lamason's, has also put a tremendous amount of effort 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."
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.
Mr Lamason is held in high esteem around the world, but his story isn't so well-known in New Zealand. The book will change all that and Mr Harold said it should also put Dannevirke on the map.
"The Lamason family have vested this story with us and it's so important nationally and internationally and will 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."
A private, humble and reluctant hero, Mr Lamason's story has a lot to offer young people today, his son John had previously told Dannevirke High School pupils.
''He showed perseverance, honesty and integrity and while you may not have a war to fight, there may, at times, be a war inside that you have to battle and face,'' John said.
''I'm grateful to his generation who fought for our freedom.''
The official launch of I Would Not Step Back ... The Phil Lamason Story will take place in Dannevirke in February next year.
An e-book version of this remarkable story will be launched at the same time.