Squadron Leader Phil Lamason DFC and Bar
Squadron Leader Phil Lamason D.F.C.and Bar
Born: September 15th 1918, Napier, New Zealand. Died: May 19th 2012. Age 93.
Lamason’s Lancaster was shot down while attacking railway yards near Paris two days after D-Day.
Two of his crew were killed, Lamason bailed out with the other four, three of whom eventually made it back to England.
For seven weeks Lamason and his navigator were hidden by the French Resistance before they were betrayed to the Gestapo, who interrogated them at the infamous Fresnes prison near Paris.
Lamason was wearing civilian clothes when he was captured and was therefore treated as a spy rather than as a prisoner of war.
On August 15 1944, five days before Paris was liberated, Lamason and his navigator were taken in cattle trucks with a group of 168 other airmen to Buchenwald, a journey that took five days .
As the most senior officer, Lamason insisted on military discipline and bearing.
He did not do this just to improve morale but also because he saw it as his responsibility to carry on his war duties despite the circumstances.
Once at Buchenwald, he risked his life on numerous occasions as he sought to obtain the men’s release and to smuggle news of their plight to the Luftwaffe – RAF prisoners of war were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe, not of the Gestapo.
By negotiating with the camp authorities he was able to secure extra blankets, clothes, clogs and food for the airmen.
In October he learned that the Gestapo had ordered their execution, and he increased his efforts to secure the fliers release.
On October 19, Luftwaffe officers arrived at Buchenwald and demanded the airmen’s release, and they were transferred to Stalag Luft III, where their shaven-headed, emaciated appearance shocked their fellow PoWs. One of Lamason’s colleagues described him as ‘a man of true grit, he was the wonderful unsung hero of Buchenwald’, most of the airmen who had been sent to that camp attributed their survival to his leadership and determination.
Philip John Lamason was born in Napier, New Zealand, on September 15 1918 and educated locally. He worked as a livestock inspector before joining the RNZAF to train as a pilot.
In April 1941 he sailed for England, where he joined No 218 Squadron flying the four-engine Stirling bomber. In April 1942 he took off on his 21st operation, an attack on Pilsen.
On the return flight he was attacked by a night fighter, and his bomber was set on fire and the guns put out of action.
Lamason coolly directed two of the crew to deal with the fire as he outmanoeuvred the fighter as it closed in for another attack.
He then nursed the badly damaged Stirling back to his base, where he made an emergency landing. He was awarded an immediate DFC .
L-R: F/O. Ken Chapman, F/O. Gerry Musgrove, F/O. Lionel George, Fl/Lt. John Marpole, Sq/Ldr. Phil Lamason, F/O. Tommy Dunk, W/O. Robbie Aitken
Lamason spent six months training new bomber crews, during which time he was twice mentioned in despatches.
He returned to operations in early 1944 as a flight commander with No 15 Squadron, flying the Lancaster. This was at the height of the Battle of Berlin, when Bomber Command’s losses were at their highest. Lamason made a number of visits to the ‘Big City’.
Lamason was never afraid to speak his mind.
On the night of March 30/31 1944, when 795 bombers were sent to attack Nuremberg, he was very critical of the route chosen, warning his station commander that heavy losses could be expected on the moonlit night. In the event, 95 bombers were lost, the worst losses on a single raid.
He attacked some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany before Bomber Command switched its attention to France in preparation for the Normandy landings.
Colette Kalmanson, Squadron Leader Philip J Lamason DFC, RNZAF and Flying Officer Ken Chapman RAF
Two weeks after Lamason had been shot down near Paris, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC. In Stalag Luft III he recovered slowly, and in January 1945 joined his fellow PoWs as they were force-marched westward ahead of the advancing Soviet Army in the worst winter weather experienced for many years.
At the end of April, the men of the ‘Long March’ were finally liberated. When the war ended Lamason returned to New Zealand, settling on his farm at Dannevirke, near Palmerston.
Phil Lamason being interviewed in June 2010 by Mike Dorsey for the documentary film, Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.
His heroic role at Buchenwald was not recognised until 1994, when a Canadian film was made and Lamason was interviewed about his experiences.
The publication of the book Night after Night – New Zealanders in Bomber Command led to the making, in 2011, of ‘The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald’, an American documentary which features Lamason and several of his fellow PoWs.
He married, in 1941, Joan Hopkins. She died in 2009, and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.