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Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park: A portrait

While Sir Hugh Dowding controlled the RAF's air defence in the Battle of Britain day to day, it was Keith Park who controlled it hour by hour.

Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park's story starts on the other side of the world from RAF Uxbridge, with his birth and education in New Zealand. With the outbreak of the First World War, Park joined the New Zealand Army and served in an artillery battalion in the Gallipoli campaign.

Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park

After transferring to the British Army, Park was eventually evacuated from Gallipoli to France, where he participated in the Battle of the Somme and was injured in 1916.

After Park recovered from his injuries and with a growing interest in aviation, sparked by a few flights he had taken on reconnaissance missions in France, he joined the Royal Flying Corps in December, 1916.

By the end of the war, Park had shot down five enemy aircraft and damaged 14 more, been shot down twice himself, and also been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Military Cross with bar, and the French Croix de Guerre.

First serving as staff officer to Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Park was appointed Air Officer Commanding of Number 11 Group in April 1940, responsible for the air defence of London and the South East and directing his staff at the RAF Uxbridge Bunker.

Almost immediately, he oversaw the fighter patrols protecting the evacuation from Dunkirk in May to June, 1940, and then directed operations during the Battle of Britain, beginning in July of that year.

Air Vice-Marshal J E 'Johnnie' Johnson said, "He was the only man who could have lost the war in a day or even an afternoon". Throughout the Battle of Britain, Park regularly visited the outlying stations, flying his own Hawker Hurricane.

After the Battle of Britain, Park served throughout the Second World War, improving air defence in Egypt and Malta before being appointed Allied Air Commander in South East Asia in 1945.

Following the war, Park was promoted to Air Chief Marshal and retired from the RAF in 1946. After 30 years of service in the British Army and Royal Air Force, he retired to his native New Zealand.

The RAF Benevolent Fund is proud to support former RAF personnel and their families both here in the UK and those living further afield. In 2014 the charity spent £690,000 supporting veterans and their families in more than 30 counties including Park’s native New Zealand.

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