A cruise ship into Napier on Tuesday brought with it a passenger who has made a significant contribution to the story of Dannevirke's World War II pilot the late Phil Lamason.
Australian author Colin Burgess, took time out from his fleeting visit to met with Hilary Pedersen from Central Hawke's Bay, who wrote Lamason's biography, I Would Not Step Back ... and Dannevirke's Mike Harold, chairman of the Phil Lamason Heritage Trust.
This was the first time those associated with the Lamason biography had met with Burgess.
"It has been a wonderful chance to meet and thank Colin in person for his support and commendation of the Lamason biography project," Pedersen said.
Burgess, who had corresponded at length with Phil Lamason and his wife Joan while in the process of researching his 1995 book Destination Buchenwald, generously supported the Lamason biography project by enabling sections of his writing to form an integral part of the book, noting that he was "more than happy to support this tribute to a wonderful man who should have received far more recognition in his lifetime."
Burgess continues a very successful career as a non–fiction writer which, in recent years, has been focused on personal stories emanating from the space exploration era.
"I always had an interest in writing," he explained.
"When visiting London while I was working as a steward for Qantas, I had the good fortune of meeting Major Pat Reid, a boyhood hero of mine who wrote the classic World War II escape book The Colditz Story.
"He encouraged me to write about the personal experiences of Australians in World War II prisoner-of-war camps. This led to my first published book, The Diggers of Colditz, which I co-authored with veteran Jack Champ, and which was published in both England and Australia."
Destination Buchenwald followed soon after.
"During my research for my first book, I became aware a small group of Australians had been part of a group of Allied airmen wrongly incarcerated in Buchenwald death camp and that their story had not been told. I was lucky I was able to interview those nine men in person and also make contact with many of the 82 of Americans from that group.
"Canadian survivor Art Kinnis was especially helpful with detailed factual information he had gathered. I contacted Phil because he was leader of this group and we corresponded at length and talked on the phone.
"I did get to meet Phil just the once, when he visited Sydney in the early 1990s, some time after the book had been published," Burgess said.
Colin, along with his wife Pat, and Hilary were joined for lunch by John Hamilton, the retired senior commander of the RNZAF, and Harold, both of whom supported the research and writing of the Lamason biography.
Burgess congratulated Pedersen and her assistant writers on the publication I Would Not Step Back ... having described it previously as "certainly one of the most remarkable and beautiful books it has ever been my pleasure to read."
"I can only imagine how humble but intensely proud Phil Lamason would have been had he been able to see this book," he said.
"Lamason was a mighty man and a truly magnificent New Zealand warrior," he said.
There are still some copies of the hard cover edition of I Would Not Step Back ... available for purchase and Harold said it's quickly becoming a limited edition collectors' book.
Lamason has been acknowledged as one of New Zealand's greatest World War II heroes and his remarkable eye-locking encounter with a senior German officer and a 20-strong firing squad is captured with spine-tingling realism in I Would Not Step Back ...
Surrounded by snarling German shepherds in the Buchenwald Camp in 1944, Lamason convinced the officer to back down.
It was a defining moment in an already momentous bomber command career - his life was on the line, but he would not step back.
Because Lamason refused to back down, all 168 of his men - 82 Americans, 48 British, 26 Canadians, nine Australians, two New Zealanders and one Jamaican - survived the hell that was Buchenwald, where often the only way out was as smoke through the chimney, Lamason told the Dannevirke News before his death in 2012 aged 95.