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VC, DSO and Bar, MC and Bar, MM and Croix de Guerre (March 28 1895 - 9 July 1918)

Keith Park was born in New Zealand in 1892 and joined the New Zealand Field Artillery as a territorial in 1911. Park also served as purser in the merchant service before being recalled on the outbreak of war in 1914 as a Non Commissioned Officer in the New Zealand Field Artillery.

Park served with his artillery battery in the ill starred Gallipoli campaign of 1915 gaining a promotion to second Lieutenant. Whilst in Gallipoli Park transferred to the British army with a commission in the Royal Horse Artillery. Whilst with the Royal Horse Artillery Park served during the Battle of the Somme, during which period he briefly served as an air observer before being invalided to England following a crash.

Whilst in England Park transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and joined 48 Squadron in France in July 1917 flying the new F2b Bristol Fighter. Park soon had a number of victories flying the Bristol Fighter earning him his Military Cross. Park went on to command 48 Squadron in which post he demonstrated his ability to command men as well as to master the technical and tactical aspects of aerial combat.

After the end of World War I, Park remained in the new RAF and in 1928 became Squadron Leader of 111 Squadron based at RAF Suttons Farm/Hornchurch. During the 1930’s Park became a senior staff officer before attaining the rank of Air Vice Marshall. As Air Vice Marshall Park commanded the crucial 11 Group which took the brunt of the air fighting during the air battles over Dunkirk and during the desperate days of the Battle of Britain.

Park was a very popular commander and often visited his embattled squadrons at their bases in his personal Hawker Hurricane. Park showed great nerve and strategic acumen in his command of 11 Group during the Battle of Britain but unfortunately had a very acrimonious relationship with the commander of 12 Group Air Vice Marshall Leigh Mallory.

After the Battle of Britain, Park was controversially removed from his post commanding 11 Group and given command of Training Command. Park was, however, reinstated to front line duty in 1942 to command the crucial air defence of Malta. During this period he again achieved the apparently impossible by husbanding his resources to inflict another defeat on German and Italian air forces superior in numbers before taking the battle to them in North Africa and Italy. In 1945 Park. was appointed the senior Allied Air Commander in the far East before retiring in December 1946 to return to his native New Zealand.

Park’s role in World War II and the development of strategic and tactical air command should not be overlooked. It was Park’s calm and professional approach, attention to detail, careful husbanding of resources and care for those under his command that won for the Allies two of the most crucial air battles of World War II.

Orange, V. 2000 Park: The Biography of Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park, GCB, KBE, MC, DFC, DCL.

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