Friday, June 8, 2012

What would Phil do?

Very few of  the regular readers of this blog will even know that the Phil in the title is Philip Lamason, never mind have the vaguest idea who he was.  You have not forgotten, you never knew.

Phil Lamason was shot down over France this day in 1944.  He was recovered in good health by the French Resistance, but was ultimately betrayed by a NAZI infiltrator & turned over to the Gestapo.  After interrogation, he & 167 other airmen were sent to Buchenwald.  Buchenwald should be a bit more familiar; after the war when so many ordinary Germans said they had no idea the concentration camps existed they were presented over & over with Buchenwald.  Although not technically a death camp, no ovens for the gassing of undesirables, just a well run crematorium for those who happened to drop dead, Buchwald was plenty horrific.  More to the point, the prison workforce routinely worked outside the camp, in plain view of anyone who cared to look.

Enter Phil Lamason.  Maybe I should back up a bit.  He was born on a farm in New Zealand into a family of farmers.  He came to the RAF through the RNZAF.  It was unusual for a prisoner of war to be sent to a place like Buchenwald, but through a series of special circumstances (one of them being caught wearing civilian clothing), certain POWs were given this special treatment, specifically the treatment accorded spies & traitors.  So, you know, not good.  Imagine what passes for the Not Good Treatment in a concentration camp.   & into 160+ other airmen captured under similar circumstances was dropped Phil Lamason.

On his first day he made a big announcement to his fellow Not Goodies & began to organize them laying out a system for stonewalling the guards en masse, ideally without them catching on (amazingly enough, this worked at least some of the time), mostly by avoiding them & working within their own smaller units.  Then Lamason began his own negotiations with the camp officials for better treatment for all of them.  He refused to give the order for the men to work in war production despite being told he would just be killed & then his men would be forced (the commandant ultimately backed down).

The airmen continued in complete isolation, from others at the camp, from any prisoner of war inspections until Lamason made contact with the Luftwaffe.  That's right, he got better treatment for his men by contacting the airial warfare branch of the German armed forces.  He was sure they would not want their shot-down airmen treated this way & his was right.  So much more happened, if you really want to know, read the book.

After the the airmen were liberated, different governments kept trying to get him to help pilot on the pacific front, but New Zealand decided against being part of that whole Hiroshima thing.  After the war, he turned down other offers because...& I love this....his family really needed him on the farm.

So, I've been thinking a lot about PLamason lately.  We read a book about his part of the world for bookclub, I am avidly following the WWII tweets &, after I had started composing this post, he died (on May 19th).

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