Putting together a book about "a story that needed to be told" — the exploits of Squadron Leader Phil Lamason DFC and Bar in World War II — has been a gargantuan task.

But it all came to fruition on Thursday evening in the Dannevirke Services and Citizen's Club at the launch of the book I Would Not Step Back before 150 invited guests.

Nearly all the people closely involved in the project were there.

They included Glenys Scott who extracted the details over many conversations with friend and neighbour Phil Lamason. Mike Harold co-ordinated the project with the Phil Lamason Trust Board and author Hilary Pedersen.

Advertisement

Ailsa Cullen, wife of the only other New Zealander with Phil in Buchenwald concentration camp attended. Ngaire Nystrum from Denmark put the group in touch with members of the French Resistance, which helped Phil, retired Air Vice Marshall John Hamilton assisted with technical details. Phil's son John and the Lamason extended family were also there.

Video recordings were played from people who had crucial roles — Denise Daitkine who was 18 when her family hid Phil after his crash near the village of Plaisir, and two writers about Buchenwald — documentary-maker Mike Dorsey and writer Colin Burgess.

"The story that needed to be told " was the driving force which motivated friend and neighbour Glenys to pursue her quest "to a point of almost fanaticism," according to author Hilary Pedersen. She described the story as an extraordinary biography about an extraordinary human being which touched all layers of society.

Phil Lamason flew Stirling, Wellington and Lancaster bombers for Bomber Command over Europe in World War II. After many sorties, including when his plane was shot up, got his aircraft safely home for which he received a Distinguished Flying Cross. He was eventually shot down over France on June 8, 1944, one of 19 that night.

After being hidden by the French Resistance for seven weeks he was betrayed and sent to Buchenwald as a spy, against conventions which were supposed to treat airmen more fairly.

Ailsa Cullen and Glenys Scott cuts the commemorative cake made by Liz Parkes of Iced.
Ailsa Cullen and Glenys Scott cuts the commemorative cake made by Liz Parkes of Iced.

There he became accepted as the spokesman for 168 airmen of numerous nationalities and fought for their rights not to work in factories, and then for their lives when they were scheduled to be executed.

Speaking for her husband Malcolm, the only other New Zealander with Phil at Buchenwald and who who died 15 years ago, Ailsa Cullen said Phil was a very brave man.

"The boys in Buchenwald would have followed him anywhere."

John Hamilton said he was sorry he had not known about Phil earlier because he would have used him to help guide the next generation of airmen after the war. He said he was sure the new book would inspire the future generation of airmen.

The launch included displays of memorabilia, paintings, a model Lancaster bomber, excerpts from writings about Buchenwald, entertainment by the Selfe family, speakers, flowers, nibbles, which one guest said fully honoured the man.

Buy the book in hard copy for $65 at the Dannevirke Information Centre between 10am and noon or as an e-book from www. phillamason.com