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Thames recognises home-grown World War II hero Sir Keith Park

29 March 2019

Sir Keith Park led Britain’s main air defence forces against Germany’s Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in World War II, saving the country from a looming land invasion, and now he is to be memorialised with a bronze statue in his hometown – Thames.

Sir Keith Park in flying helmet

The statue of Sir Keith Park is to be raised on 23 April outside the Thames War Memorial Civic Centre and formally recognised with an unveiling ceremony on 27 April at 11am. All are welcome to attend, and given the date so soon after ANZAC Day, wear a poppy if you would like to.

For details of ANZAC Day dawn parades and services, see our website.

Minister of Defence Hon. Ron Mark and the UK’s defence attache to New Zealand, Commander Guy Haywood, will be among the dignitaries at the ceremony, which will also feature an air force honour guard, a flypast of classic military planes from the NZ Warbirds Association and afterwards, a presentation on Sir Keith Park by aerial warfare specialist Dr Adam Classen.

Be in to win a free training flight out of the Sir Keith Park Memorial Airfield in Thames with the Hauraki Aero Club and discover what Sir Keith found so thrilling about flying. Enter the draw immediately after the unveiling ceremony and the lucky winner will be drawn after Dr Classen’s presentation. The winner must be present to claim the prize.

Generous bequest

Sir Keith Park bronze statue

The statue was made as a result of a bequest from Yvonne Elizabeth (Betty) Hare, requesting that a bronze memorial to Sir Keith Park be placed in Thames. Mark Whyte sculpted the statue of Sir Keith Park and it was cast in bronze by Jonathan Campbell..

Betty Hare passed away in September 2017 and in her will left $200,000 for the bronze statue of Sir Keith to be created.

Her niece, Wendy Hare is one of the executors of Betty Hare’s estate.

“As a proud New Zealander my aunt felt Sir Keith deserved greater recognition in his homeland,” Wendy Hare says. “She felt strongly there were many New Zealanders who have done great things on the world stage but aren’t well recognised in their home country. My brother (Ralph Hare) organised the bronze and I’ve stepped in to help with the unveiling,” she says. “Our family has roots in the Coromandel and my brother farms here. “

The Hare family also has a military history. Betty Hare’s father William John Hare (Wendy’s and Ralph’s grandfather) served initially in WWI as a stretcher bearer but soon ended up in the Royal Navy as he was from a family of boat builders. He was also Chairman of the Coromandel County Council for some years.

Betty’s mother was born in Wales and trained as a nurse and volunteered to go to France to tend wounded soldiers. She met William, they were married in Britain and after the war moved to New Zealand, took up farming in the Coromandel near Coroglen and raised a family.

'Leadership and calm judgement'

Sir Keith Park was born on 15 June 1892. He landed with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and then served on the Western Front and was wounded. After his recovery he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and later commanded No. 48 Squadron.

Between the wars, Sir Keith remained in the Royal Air Force and soon after World War II began he was promoted to air vice-marshall and given command of No. 11 Group of the RAF Fighter Command, responsible for the defence of London and south-east England during the pivotal Battle of Britain.

Germany’s failure to defeat the RAF was their first major defeat of the war and prevented a land invasion of Britain.

A senior RAF commander during the Battle of Britain, Air Vice Marshall Arthur William Tedder (who later in the war was second-in-command of the Allied forces in western Europe), said of Sir Keith:

“If ever any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I don’t believe it is recognised how much this one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save not only this country, but the world.”

Sir Keith Park later led the air defences of Malta, for which he was knighted in 1942. He went on to command British air forces in the Middle East and by the war’s end he commanded Allied air forces in South-East Asia.

After the war, Sir Keith moved back to Auckland and worked in the civil aviation industry, he persuaded the government to buy land in Mangere to establish Auckland International Airport at its current site and he served as an Auckland city councillor for three terms.

Sir Keith Park passed away in Auckland on 6 February 1975. The airfield at Thames is named in his honour, as are a school in Mangere and a display hall at the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) in Auckland. A statue of him was unveiled in Waterloo Place, London, in 2010.

Read more about Sir Keith on Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand website.