IN GESTAPO HANDS
NEW ZEALAND AIRMAN
' INMATE OF BUCHENWALD (Special P.A. Correspondent.) Rec. 9 a.m. LONDON, May 24. Each time he kicked or cuffed the New Zealander with his fist, the German warrant officer clapped a hand to his revolver and shouted: "English officer, hey?" One threatening move and the German would have shot him dead. Only the day before he had shot a Frenchman in an overcrowded truck through the hand and then had invited him to get out and be treated. When the Frenchman left the truck this same German had shot him. through the heart and had the body flung into a ditch. Squadron Leader P. J. Lamason, D.F.C. and Bar, of Napier, one of New Zealand's leading bomber pilots, remembered this incident only too well, and that was why he had to take a beating up without a murmur from this German guard. He was on his way to Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the infamous horror camps, and as the senior British officer in charge of his truck he had complained of overcrowding. And for his trouble ■ the German guard kicked him and cuffed him, shouting insults. Later, when Squadron Leader Lamason, half knocked out, was sitting down recovering, some stray thought must I have penetrated the German's thick skull, for he inquired from other prisoners what was the New Zealander's rank, arid, learning that it was the equivalent of major, summoned a Red Cross man and had Lamason's cuts and bruises treated and gave him a drink of milk and ordered better accommodation for his men. Then he sat down and discussed the reasons why Germany would never be defeated. SHOT DOWN BY NIGHT-FIGHTER. , This was but one of many incidents in Squadron Leader Lamason's bleak existence after he was shot down while on the run up to bomb the railway junction at Maissy, in France, in June, 1944. It was his 45th operation, and flying in clear moonlight at 4000 feet Lamason saw six other Lancasters shot down by German night fighters all round him within a few minutes. His own gunners were keeping a sharp look-out, but a night fighter eventually got them too, attacking from under the Lancaster's belly. The bomber soon caught fire and Lamason ordered the crew to bale out. Suddenly the starboard wing was torn off and Lamason, who was the pilot and the last to leave the aircraft, got away only just in time. Something was wrong with his parachute, and he went down fast, passing within a few yards of his English navigator, Flying^Officer Chapman, who called out cheerfully as his skipper went past him: "Hey, Chappie, here." Lamason heard his aircraft explode with a roar as it hit the ground, and a moment later he struck the ground too —hard. He was badly j jarred, and his right ankle was sprained. But he could walk, and he and Chapman, who had landed a short distance away, struggled along until they were picked up by members of the French resistance movement. Their chapter of adventures had now begun. They were with the French movement for seven weeks, sometimes working as painters and at other times masquerading as firemen on a fire engine. Eventually they were taken to Paris, where they were to"' receive the necessary passes and visas to reach Spain. But now the Gestapo stepped in. DECEIVED INTO CAPTIVITY. Unknown to the French Resistance Movement, the Gestapo had so worked matters that their own men held. key positions in the F.F.I, in Paris, and there they sat waiting for escaped Allied airmen to be presented to them. Lamason and his navigator were told that everything had been fixed .for them to reach Spain, but that they had one call to make first. They were driven to a large block of buildings which was actually the Gestapo headquarters. Following their guide, whom they believed to be a Frenchman but who was a member of the Gestapo, they entered blithely in their civilian clothes, and before very long they were being invited quietly to put up their hands. Still unsuspecting, they allowed themselves to be handcuffed, and when informed, "We are going to shoot you for sabotage, Lamason cheerfully replied, "Oh, gee, mister, think of my wife and kids." But it soon became evident that something in the F.F.I, link had broken, down when they were pitched into a cell in Fresne gaol and left there with very little food. From , Fresne they were put on a train and packed into trucks like sardines. It was while on this six and a half days' trip to Buchenwald that Lamason complained of the conditions and bravely took his beating-up. In Buchenwald, where men almost inevitably descended to the level of animals after they had been there some time, Lamason and his navigator and 168 other Allied airmen, who'had been collected in Paris, spent two months. Their introduction was to be stripped of all their clothes. They were given a shirt and a pair of trousers, but no socks or boots, and every hair was shaved off their bodies. Then for a fortnight their "quarters" were bare rocks, where they sweltered in midsummer heat during the day, and at night shivered without l blankets 2500 feet above sea level. Their rations, were half a litre of soup, a quarter of a loaf of bread, and some ersatz coffee daily. In two months Lamason lost three stone and contracted diphtheria. After a fortnight they were given a hut, into which, although it could have housed 200 men in some degree of comfort, nearly 800 were crowded. The result was that every available inch of space was occupied. There was a mixture of every nationality in Buchenwald, including some. German Communists, who had been in concentration camps for 11 years. They were tough; they had to be, otherwise they could never have lived. The German system was to leave the prisoners to themselves, supplying meagre rations, with the result that the men became callous, and the only way to get enough food was to take part in what were called "rackets," of which there were many varieties. There were criminals and pplitical offenders, men held on the ground of their religion, and some were listed as maniacs. All had to wear a special flash, according1 to their class of "offence," but the Allied airmen wore none because the Germans could not decidfe exactly what was their particular offence. Men died regularly from illness or were hanged or murdered. The crematorium, was working for 24 hours a day. Prisoners would come across dead bodies and take no notice of them, not even bothering to wonder how they died nor who would collect them. Once Lamason saw a group of Poles kill a man whom they described as a "bad Pole." They beat him senseless, and then flung him into water until he recovered. Then they beat him senseless again. It took him four hours to die. Nobody seemed to care. Nobody seemed able to do any- < thing about it. Sometimes the Germans hanged a prisoner and paraded his swinging body. THE RUSSIAN ADVANCE. Fortunately, this soul-searing period ended for Lamason and the other airmen when they were moved to Luft 3 after two months, and there the New Zealander spent a month in hospital, skin and bones and hairless, recovering from diphtheria. Later the Germans forced the occupants of the camp to march away from the advancing Russians, and the prisoners ended up by arriving at Luchenwalde by train. They were there until the Russians captured the camp by completely overrunning the Germans. To say that the Russians "captured" the camp is more or less accurate, for although they allowed the prisoners to forage for themselves, they would not allow American trucks to enter and take the airmen to an airfield. Lamason and his navigator decided that they had had quite enough of life behind the barbed wire, so they escaped and made their way to the trucks. The Americans could not do too much for them, fed them lavishly, and piled them with cigarettes and deposited them at Hildersheim airfield. Frcnv there they were flown to Brussels and England. . Today Lamason is looking little the worse for his experiences, and is in good health. He has -but one thought. He wants to get back as soon as possible to operational flying. And if he has one regret it is that he is no longer able to bomb the Germans.
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IN GESTAPO HANDS, Evening Post, Volume CXXXIX, Issue 122, 25 May 1945
IN GESTAPO HANDS Evening Post, Volume CXXXIX, Issue 122, 25 May 1945
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