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New Zealand
Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park

"If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I do not believe it is realized how much that one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save, not only this country, but the world." 
Lord Tedder - Chief of the Air Staff, Royal Air Force February 1947

Keith Rodney Park was born in Thames, New Zealand on June 15th 1892 and the son of Scotsman Professor James Livingstone Park and his wife Frances. After he completed his education at Otago Boys High School, Keith Park did not really have any ambition at that stage to become a military soldier. In June 1911, just before his 19th birthday he started work with the Union Steamship Company as a Cadet Purser with a promotion to Purser within twelve months and stayed with them until the outbreak of the first world war. 

Keith Park went to Great Britain to serve in the army as a gunner during the 1914-18 war. In 1917, he applied for a pilots position in the new Royal Flying Corps and this was accepted and he finished the war still with the "Corps" and at the birth of the Royal Air Force he received a permanent position. 

Keith Park had an unblemished record during the First World War having been credited some twenty enemy aircraft. Between the wars, Keith Park was to pass through the RAF Staff College, become air attaché in Buenos Aires, was a Commanding Officer at one of Britain's peacetime fighter stations. Prior to 1940 he was appointed senior air staff officer to Hugh Dowding where together they built a bond where they had the greatest respect for each other. At the beginning of the war, when Fighter Command was divided into Groups, Dowding had no hesitation in placing Keith Park as the C-in-C of 11 Group, the most important Group in Fighter Command, as it was this group that was not only to protect the southern coastline of Britain and South-East England from enemy attack, but was to protect London which it was obvious that at some stage during the war would be the prime target of the Luftwaffe. 

It was during the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk that Keith Park organized the air protection, shuttling his fighters back and forth across the English Channel and intercepting the Luftwaffe before they could attack the tired and exhausted British troops on the beaches. Park had limited aircraft that could be deployed on these missions, and what aircraft did take part could only spend limited time over the battle area before they were left with only enough fuel to return to base. 

Members of the British Expeditionary Force greatly criticized the Royal Air Force for not doing enough and providing greater cover for them, and further placed much of the blame for the number of casualties sustained on the beaches to the RAF. After the evacuation, it was not safe for a pilot of the RAF to mingle or be seen near any members of the Army, he was either spat at, assaulted or verbally abused. It was not until the resounding success of the Battle of Britain did the RAF get the respect that they deserved and even then, many soldiers could still not forgive the RAF for what happened at Dunkirk. 

Park later stated that, under the circumstances he done his best with what was made available to him, and that he sympathized with those that had turned against him, but the experiences that our fighter pilots had over Dunkirk placed them in high stead, and gave them the experience that they needed for the Battle of Britain that was to follow. Dowding agreed with Park, but there was always the constant argument that the new pilots were too 'green', and Park made no bones about it. "I have pilots here that are still thinking they are turning left and right, they have no idea what port and starboard are. There are pilots who think that the radio is for idle chit-chat, they have no radio knowledge at all. Fourteen to twenty hours in a Spit and they are given their's downright ridiculous". Dowding sympathized, "I know" his voice was solemn, which for Dowding was normal, "but we must be prepared, London could be attacked at any time, and we must be ready. These boys are young, keen and they're trying, they are intelligent enough that after two sorties they will have all the experience they need". 

It has been stated, that, Dowding controlled the Battle of Britain from day to day, while Keith Park controlled it hour by hour. Park organized and managed his squadrons and men brilliantly, he was respected and admired by many, yet as with all commanders one has to be open for criticism. Most of this was due to the fact that he fought the battle in a defensive manner when it was thought that he should give greater consideration to taking the fight to the Germans in an offensive manner. 

Park's answer to that was that the role of the fighter aircraft was one of defence and should be used in attacking those that were attacking us. In a similar political move that forced the retirement of Dowding from the RAF, Keith Park was relieved of his command of 11 Group soon after the Battle of Britain, taking up a position with a training squadron. He stayed with the RAF until the end of the war commanding squadrons in Egypt in 1941, Malta in 1942 and in South-East Asia in 1944-45. 

After the war, Keith Park returned to his native New Zealand where he stayed until his death in Auckland in 1982. 



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