Sir Keith Park GCB, KBE, MC, DFC, DCL
1892 – 1975: Soldier, military aviator and leader, company representative, local politician
Keith Rodney Park was a decorated First World War fighter pilot who carved out a prestigious career in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He played a pivotal role in the defense of London and south-east England during the Battle of Britain.
Born in Thames on 15 June 1892, Park was educated at Kings College, Auckland and Otago Boys High School, Dunedin. At the age of 19 he joined the Union Steam Ship Company as a cadet purser – earning the nickname ‘Skipper’ among friends and family.
Park enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in December 1916. His performance in the First World War earned him two Military Crosses and a Distinguished Flying Cross. During the interwar years Park held various command and staff postings in
the United Kingdom and overseas. Together with Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Park developed a comprehensive air defense system involving the use of high-speed, heavily armed fighter aircraft (Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine
Spitfires) in combination with new radio and radar equipment.
Promoted to air vice-marshal in April 1940, Park was given command of No. 11 Group, responsible for the defense of London and south-east England. He developed a reputation as a ‘hands-on’ leader, often flying his personal Hurricane to embattled airfields to inspire his hard-pressed pilots. He was knighted in 1942 for his role in the defense of Malta. Lord Tedder (Marshall of the Royal Airforce) said of Keith Park: “If ever a man won the Battle of Britain, he did I don’t believe it is realised how much that one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement, and his skill did to save not only this country, but the world.”
Park retired from the RAF in 1946 as air chief marshal and moved back to Auckland.
In 1951, Park became chairman of the Auckland International Airport Committee. By 1955 he had persuaded a reluctant government to purchase a site at Mangere.
Construction began in 1960 and the airport opened in 1966.
Park served three terms (1962–71) as an Auckland city Councillor, and was active in the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, the New Zealand Epilepsy Association, and the King George V Children’s Health Camp, Pakuranga.
Sir Keith Park died in Auckland on 6 February 1975, aged 82. Our school (which opened in 1975) is named in his honour, as is a section of the Auckland Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).
A statue of Sir Keith Park (pictured) was unveiled in Waterloo Place, London, on 15 September 2010 - the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
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