Phil Lamason

March 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

At the weekend the film Lost Airmen of Buchenwald was on television. It told a fascinating little known story of 168 allied airmen who were illegally sent to a concentration camp in WWII, and how Acting Squadron Leader Phil Lamason kept them alive. Lamason is a kiwi, and amazingly is still alive aged 93.

The 168 airmen were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, which was technically not an extermination camp, but still saw 55,000 people shot or worked to death.

Lamason as the senior officer assumed command of the airmen, and many of them say his leadership kept them alive. Lamason kept asking for them to be transferred to a POW camp, but this was denied. They were ordered to work as slave labour. Lamason refused to order the men to work, as allied soliders could not work for war production for the Nazis. He refused to back down even when threatened with summary execution by an SS officer.

Lamason managed to get word to the Luftwaffe, about the airmen being held at the concentration camp. He was hoping they would intervene, as they would not wish their captured airmen in the UK to be treated in the same way. Two Luftwaffe officers visited the camp pretending to inspect bomb damage, and talked to Lamason. They reported to Hermann Goering who ordered them transferred.

However before news of the transfer came through, they were ordered to be shot on 26 October. Only Lamarson knew this, but didn’t tell the others to keep morale high. Then the transfer came through on 19 October.  They were just one week away from execution. 166 of the airmen were transferred and survived.

It was a fascinating documentary and well worth watching. New Zealanders can be very proud of Mr Lamason, a true war hero.

 

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56 Responses to “Phil Lamason”

  1. flipper (3,847 comments) says:

    Is it the same camp (story line is identical, well almost) that used US POWs from the Ardennes bulge to work as slaves on the rocket programme facilities?

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  2. Grant (428 comments) says:

    I too watched that doco and couln’t help wondering why I had never heard of Mr. Lamason. What a truly remarkable man. His deeds, both before and after being shot down, surely deserve the recognition of this nation?
    Have there not been less deserving recipients of the Order of New Zealand?
    But I cant help feeling that he would say that he was simply doing his job.
    Phil Lamason, I salute you.
    G

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  3. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Phil Lamason, I understand, kept quite quiet about his role in Buchenwald. He was highly decorated for his operational service before being captured. A genuine hero, not forgotten.

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  4. Swifty (19 comments) says:

    A very fine New Zealander, and one who exemplifies the best in us. Still living on his Dannevirke farm, I understand.

    Becoming aware of and understanding better his life-story over the last ten years or so, I sometimes despair at those who complain about their lot and consider themselves hard done by. Some people don’t even know they’re alive.

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  5. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Grant: Agree 100%…Incredible and disgraceful that we have never heard of this man…they truly were the Greatest Generation. I hope someone brings this thread to Mr Lamason’s attention.

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  6. Nell214 (3 comments) says:

    He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, but he should have been knighted too. Surely it’s not too late? A real New Zealand hero, sadly under-recognised

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  7. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    A true war hero – what an amazing story!

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  8. tvb (4,255 comments) says:

    My father who was in the airforce knew him and i went to school with his children. BUT we never knew he was such a war hero, a truely modest NZ hero in the very best tradition of this country.

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  9. Dazzaman (1,132 comments) says:

    That dude’s got huge cojones!

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  10. insider (1,032 comments) says:

    i thought it was hilarious that they subtitled his and the Scots pilot’s words but none of the North Americans.

    But a good story about some brave men, and pleasing they didn’t do a U 472 on it or whatever that enigma film was

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  11. nasska (10,917 comments) says:

    Many of the true heroes of WW2 have gone or will go to their graves with their courage unacknowledged & unpublicised. They returned from war, having in their own minds ‘done their duty’ & simply got on with their lives.

    Mr Lamason was one of these.

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  12. gump (1,553 comments) says:

    Any leader that places a principle ahead of the lives of his men is a fool.

    If the 166 surviving airmen had been executed as scheduled, we would rightly castigate Mr Lamason for being an idiot.

    [DPF: Not at all. All responsibility would be with the Nazis. You do not blame the person on the side of right.

    Fuck armchair heroes like you make me puke.

    And as it happens they were going to be executed anyway - Lamason got them saved. You would have had them woring happily for the Nazis so long as you were safe]

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  13. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    One could always nominate Mr Lamason for a knighthood, or other honour, but my understanding is that no nominations for actions during the second Worlkd War have been made since 1947 or 1948.

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  14. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    gump: if you are under 40 you are forgiven…you may yet learn something. If not, you are a complete cock…Guys of this generation – both the leaders and their men – valued honour and principle above their lives…something for which we who follow completely inadequately in their footsteps should be eternally grateful

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  15. voice of reason (491 comments) says:

    Gump – by todays standards you may have a point.
    But think about the situation that Lamason and his men were in. The only they had left were their principles.

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  16. insider (1,032 comments) says:

    @ gump

    One of the reasons stated in the doco that they survived that long was the principled insistence that they were military prisoners and should be treated as such, rather than slave labourers. He also pulled them back from rebelling or trying to intervene in executions of other allied soldiers. It seems he was very focused on the group surviving.

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  17. Ross12 (1,279 comments) says:

    The thing about so many of these guys is that they did not talk about the wars.( esp WWW1) They just got with live the best way they could. My Grandfather fought at Pashendale in WWW1. He never spoke about it at any time

    Gump — His men would have known what he was doing in refusing to allow them to do slave labour work and if they did do it many probably would have died from stavation/exhaustion etc. You should be thankful you’ve never been in that position and it is because of guys like Mr Lamason you are around to make the “comments” you do.

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  18. Ed Snack (1,801 comments) says:

    And it may have been that sense of “military honour” or how ever you want to describe it that kept them alive. The Germans, even some of the most nazified, had a certain enduring respect for the law and for procedure. Not in all respects and certainly not in all cases, but it may have helped. That was the opinion of some POWs, such as the Dutch officers in Colditz for example (according to the Pat Reid books anyway). Not that they were dealing with the SS (or IKL) normally.

    There are a number of recorded cases of POW’s being sentenced to various punishments (including the execution) for various offenses who were able to escape punishment by successfully defending themselves in German military courts; German military law was apparently convoluted and difficult, with considerable scope for legalized hair-splitting arguments.

    If these officers had agreed to work it is quite possible that their guards would have ceased to regard them as POWs at all and started to think of them as “normal” concentration camp inmates, with all that implies. In most cases the German’s did respect the Geneva Conventions with respect to allied prisoners; Soviet prisoners though were not accorded that privilege though as the USSR was not a signatory to the conventions at the time. Allied prisoners from occupied territories, especially Poles, also tended to suffer harsher conditions.

    FWIW

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  19. Zapper (967 comments) says:

    David Garrett – Being under 40 is no excuse. I’m well under 40 and, like DPF, this gimp who calls himself gump makes me want to puke.

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  20. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Zapper: well you know me…very tolerant chap…I wonder whether he is winding us up? If so, not appropriate.

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  21. tvb (4,255 comments) says:

    Sadly there were plenty of Gumps around. They were called collaborators. But then Gump does not understand that concept during wartime. His kind were usually dealt to afterwards……

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  22. obald (10 comments) says:

    The number of documentaries I view per year could be counted on the fingers of one foot. I am so glad that I chanced upon Sunday night’s offering from Prime. I was born in London in 1951 and the values that were so central to the incredible tale that unfolded are at the heart of my upbringing. And, God, am I glad they are. I found it the most uplifting couple of hours I’ve had for a while.

    In stark contrast I find gump@11.17 the most depressing five lines of electronic prose (sic) I have seen for decades. His descent into profanity when challenged merely adds to my total disgust (despair?, disgust and despair?) for what appears to be his attitude to life.

    I am able to live in the world that the likes of Mr Lamason helped create and, in general, it ain’t bad. I would hate to think of my, and of all our, lot if gump@11.17 had had anything to do with its creation.

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  23. Zapper (967 comments) says:

    Welcome obald…the descent into profanity was from our host but most appropriate I thought.

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  24. flipper (3,847 comments) says:

    I have sat back and read with dismay some of the crap published above.

    Frankly, the idiot describing his/her self as “gump” and a few others make me sick.

    TVB sums it up. Exactly.

    There are 10 – 12 similar correspondents (to gump) DPF. If their ilk had prevailed they would NOT be exporessing their views through this blog.

    “Lord save us. They know not what they do.” Well, that (paraphrased) seems appropriate, does it not?

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  25. Zapper (967 comments) says:

    @David Garrett, yes way too tolerant…if it was me I’d have made it one strike for violent offenders :)

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  26. RRM (9,667 comments) says:

    I didn’t know about this. hardcore.

    Good old Hermann Goering eh?

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  27. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    tvb: if you Google Phil Lamason you will find one such gump; the french prick who betrayed them and led them to being arrested in the first place…He paid the appropriate penalty in 1949. Wiki doesnt record whether it was the guillotine or the firing squad.

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  28. gump (1,553 comments) says:

    DPF said:

    Not at all. All responsibility would be with the Nazis. You do not blame the person on the side of right.

    Fuck armchair heroes like you make me puke.

    And as it happens they were going to be executed anyway – Lamason got them saved. You would have had them woring happily for the Nazis so long as you were safe

    ————————

    Lamason was prepared to sacrifice the lives of 166 men on a matter of principle.

    If the belief that human lives are more valuable than a principle is enough to make you puke, then please carry on puking.

    [DPF: So if someone told you to rape a one year old baby, or they will shoot someone, would you do it?

    You also ignore the fact Lamason was risking his own life, not that of 166 men. The SS officer was not threatening to shoot them all - he was threatening to shoot Lamason if he did not order them to work.]

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  29. grumpy (250 comments) says:

    To whom it may concern.

    The person calling themselves “gump” is no relation to the above signed.

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  30. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Gump you appear to be a bit thick. To work as slave labour would undermine their case that they were military prisoners and should be treated by pow rules, one of which is pows may not be forced to contribute to the enemy’s war effort. The insistence that they were treated.as military was exactly what saved them, it was not picking a fight over some abstract principle.

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  31. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    PIA: dont they call what this clown is doing “trolling” ?? I am a a generous guy…surely he doesnt actually believe the dribble he’s writing??

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  32. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    David Garrett – could well be trolling, but how do you tell trolling leftist idiocy from real leftist idiocy? Usually too close to call…

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  33. nasska (10,917 comments) says:

    David Garrett

    Dollars to knobs of goat shit that “Gump” will be the result of a hug your enemy, anti war upbringing. Most of us grow out of peace protests & sitting cross legged on the floor singing Kumbaya.

    Most but not all.

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  34. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Now I know that people on Kiwiblog can be bit stubborn, but gump is taking it a bit far. Did you see the documentary gump? Did you read insider’s comment above? He did see the documentary, apparently.

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  35. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Fuck me, this is serious!! Nasska, me, and Mikey mild all on the same side!! but isnt it more than a little scary that the guy might actually think Lamason was a bit of a fool and not the fucking hero that he very clearly is? I actually spoke to him today (don’t call him, he is a bit frail) and he was just as gruff and unassuming as you imagine guys from that generation who have done great things are….It was pretty funny trying to explain kiwiblog to him though! I settled on ” like a noticeboard in a village where people put up notices, but done on a computer”… Sadly he doesnt have one…

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  36. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Ha, but would the village noticeboard be read by the village idiot?

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  37. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Mikey: Assuming you are not referring to me…great to be on the same side for once…fuck me, I must have had too many of my pills at lunch time…

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  38. cubit (356 comments) says:

    Thank god, that he doesn’t have a computer.

    He is one of a huge number of his generation who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
    In June, after an obscenely long wait for proper recogniotion the Boys of bomber command are going to be finally recognised for there extraordinary efforts over the skies of Europe. About 6000 NZer’s served in bomber command, about 1700 (thats right 1700) were killed.

    Their boss one Air chief Marshal “Bomber Harris” received no recognition for his leadership of these people who truly did put their lives on the line, night after night.

    Phil Lamason was one of those NZ Bomber Command pilots.

    And before the ranting starts about war crimes or “Terrorist Fliers” as the Germans called them, just remember – Who started it, and what about London, Coventry, Stalingrad, Warsaw and God knows how many other places.

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  39. DJP6-25 (1,313 comments) says:

    David Garrett 3:30 pm. I envy you being able to speak to him. I hope I can see the doc on You Tube. I’ll check the Prime website though. As for trolls; they’re one of the minor down sides of freedom.

    I think Phil Lamason would probably turn down an honour. If there was talk of it after the war, it might have been declined behind the scenes when he found out. As others have said; many in the greatest generation were very modest and unassuming. They just wanted to get on with civilian life and forget.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  40. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    cubit
    I’m not sure what recognition you are referring to. Most of the Bomber Command would have received the Air Crew Europe Star along with their other campaign medals, and wasn’t Harris knighted?

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  41. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Cubit: great post…Have you read Max Lambert’s book “Night after Night” ?? It’s about the contribution of New Zealand airmen to bomber command..One should not take away one skerrick of the honour accorded “the few” in the Battle of Britain in 1940…but it would have taken awesome courage to climb into those Lancs “night after night”, in the certain knowledge that some of you at least would not come back…every night the same.

    Is it just me being curmudgeonly, or is it impossible to imagine the egocentric peirced youth who are todays equivalant of these guys “stepping to the plate” like that now if the situation required it? Most of these guys were in their early twenties at most…at 27, Lamason was an old man; he must have refused to be posted to a training school, and insisted on remaining on operational flying.

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  42. voice of reason (491 comments) says:

    Cubit – Bomber Harris already had an OBE before the war. And was knighted during the war I think.
    You may already be aware that his carpet bombing strategy was viewed with some controversy by other allied commanders who favoured more targeted options.
    The most controversial raids were Dresden and Hamburg. Where 1000′s of civilians perished.

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  43. RRM (9,667 comments) says:

    And before the ranting starts about war crimes or “Terrorist Fliers” as the Germans called them, just remember – Who started it, and what about London, Coventry, Stalingrad, Warsaw and God knows how many other places.

    Being a bit dishonest there. That discussion is quite separate from any discussion of the courage of the aircrew. But it is relevant to it.

    The heroism of the aircrew is in knowing there was about a 30% chance of completing a tour of ops without being killed, and doing it anyway because that’s what their leaders had decided must happen. That’s real heroism, no question about that.

    But to laud Bomber Harris as a hero you need to pretty explicitly say that you think burning up 100,000 + civilians with firebombs was a noble thing to do; and that’s quite a bit different than recognising the courage of the airmen in getting into a bomber and going off to do the job.

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  44. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    RRM: Perfectly good point…but you need to remember IMHO (as I believe one says) that during the period 1941 to ‘ 44 the “war in the air” was all the allies had…they were constantly being asked to start a “second front” by Stalin at a time when they simply didnt have the resources to invade continental Europe…as such disasters like the Dieppe raid proved…And remember the yanks tried “precision bombing” in daylight, with bugger all better results than the Brits, and massive casualties.

    “They started it” sounds a bit childish I agree…but there is plenty of evidence that the German people as a whole were right behind der Fuhrer until very late in the war…the idea that “the ordinary German didn’t know” what was going on has been comprehensively disproven.

    Yes, “area bombing” was a terrible tactic with terrible civilian casualties… but so was the attempted extermination of an entire race…and if you have ever been to Dachau, you will know that the argument that the local people did not know what was happening there and in other camps is simply laughable.

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  45. gump (1,553 comments) says:

    I’ve done some more reading on Lamason and you’re all quite right – he wasn’t just another Rupert.

    Consequently I must apologise to Mr Lamason for my earlier remarks.

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  46. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    gump: Well done sir…it takes a man to admit when he is wrong…and I am being totally sincere. Good on you.

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  47. voice of reason (491 comments) says:

    David Garrett (1,085) Says:
    … that during the period 1941 to ‘ 44 the “war in the air” was all the allies had

    David – In Europe I guess you mean – of course they were fighting in Egypt, Libya, Crete etc

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  48. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    VOR: Yes, that’s right…but Stalin was constantly pressuring them for a “second front” in mainland Europe…he didn’t give a rats about Crete or North Africa…If they were the Greatest Generation we are surely the Luckiest..the first generation in the 20th Century not to be called to fight for spurious reasons (WW I) or entirely valid reasons (WW II) And now the yoof – even the educated ones – havent got a clue what it was about…

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  49. DJP6-25 (1,313 comments) says:

    David Garrett 5:22 pm. You’re right about the bomber offensive being the second front. It was a very large effort. It tied up hundreds of Luftwaffe planes, and thousands of flak guns. Both of these resources would have been used on the Eastern front were it not for the bomber offensive. Flak guns could double as anti-tank guns.

    Each of the allies contributed according to their ability. The Russians and Chinese provided much of the Infantry. The US and UK provided much of the air, and sea power. Added together it worked thank God.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  50. Nostalgia-NZ (5,045 comments) says:

    What an amazing story overall from which a number of things are very pointed. The interrogation by the Gestapo in itself was by far no ordinary affair even though Phil Lamason seems to have made no major point of it. The various couriers by which messages were passed must have been an ordeal because no doubt information to the German Commander would have found favours and probably resulted in summary execution for Phil. And not withstanding he’d already been betrayed in France. I didn’t see the documentary and the link is silent on it but what a decision for him to have had to make regarding when he was ordered to send the men to work in a munitions factory, not necessarily from his own point of view because he clearly put the others first, but on the basis of wanting to save his men. I suspect he considered that the decision was made for him by the rules that prisoners were not to be put to work in such a way even if termed ‘terrorfliegers.’

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  51. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    David
    ‘called to fight for fight for spurious reasons (WW I)’
    Can’t let that one go. It’s a popular theme, and even has a prominent NZ adherent (‘The Great Wrong War’ by Stevan Eldred-Grigg), but is erroneous: it was just as important for the democracies to fight and win the first as it was the second of the world wars.

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  52. Tookinator (218 comments) says:

    I missed the doco anyone have a link to it? (I don’t think Prime has ‘on demand?’

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  53. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    You could buy the DVD here:
    http://www.lostairmen.com/

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  54. Dean Papa (782 comments) says:

    hmm… I wonder how things would have turned out if Phil had still been born in NZ, but shifted to Aus at an early age and gone on to do the things that he did? Perhaps he would have been celebrated as a hero in Aus, while over in NZ we would be desperately trying to reclaim him as one of our own. There would be much discussion and angst over whether Phil still considered himself a ‘Kiwi’ despite having left NZ at an early age. But because he is a dinkum Kiwi, and only a Kiwi, he is relatively obscure in his own country. Whose fault is that, I wonder?

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  55. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    I’m not really sure what you are on about. A DFC and bar is not exactly a lack of recognition.

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  56. Cherry (1 comment) says:

    Phillip John lamason 1915-2012
    My wonderful dad,Phillip John Lamason died peacefully yesterday on the 19th May 2012.at 4.25pm. Aged 93.
    God Bless you Dad.

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