On Wednesday 15th September we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Battle of Britain Day with the unveiling of the statue of Sir Keith Park in Waterloo Place, London.
As Mrs Moneypenny pointed out in her column on 11th Sept, the campaign was launched in that column three years to the day prior to the unveiling:
I basically used a ruse to launch the campaign, but it was in a worthy cause. The Mrs Moneypenny column is in the Saturday FT magazine (or the Life & Arts section if you read an edition of the FT published outside the UK) and in 2007, Battle of Britain Day, the 15th September, fell on a Saturday. I encouraged Mrs M to write a piece about the absence of a suitable memorial to Sir Keith. I then wrote a letter to the Editor in the vein of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" arguing that there should be a statue of Sir Keith in central London and sat back to see what transpired. The weight of the postbag which was received by Mrs M, me and the FT (which had to devote a separate letters page to the correspondence) gave me the encouragement I needed to launch the campaign to commemorate Sir Keith, which culminated in the unveiling of his statue on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in November 2009.
I have always had a soft spot for unsung heroes, and there is little doubt that Park was one. He fought with the Anzac Brigade in Gallipoli in World War One. He then volunteered for service in the British Army and fought in the Battle of the Somme, where he was invalided out and declared unfit for service after being blown off his horse by an artillery shell. However, he then volunteered for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps and qualified as a pilot. He was credited with some 18 enemy aircraft downed whilst flying his Bristol fighter. By the end of the War he had been awarded a Military Cross and Bar, a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre. He stayed with the newly formed Royal Air Force after the War.
In the build up to World War Two, Park was a staff officer to Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command. Dowding trusted Park to follow the strategy he had devised and in April 1940 Park, by then an Air Vice Marshall, was given commmand of 11 Group Fighter Command which guarded London and the South East of England and was to bear the brunt of the forthcoming Battle Of Britain. Park's handling of his fighters was impeccable, and he won the Battle against the odds. However, as so often with unassuming men like Park he lost the peace. After the Battle, he and Dowding were cast aside as the result of political infighting by the adherents of the so-called Big Wing theory. led by Trafford Leigh Mallory, the head of 12 Group. This travesty of justice led to Park being consigned to Training Command. In a shameful episode, the official history of the Battle did not even mention him. However, Park was too good to languish for long and in July 1942 he was appointed to lead the air defence of Malta where he turned the tide of the battle and defeated the Luftwaffe once again.
Park had won the greatest and most significant aerial battle in history and had twice won defensive aerial battles, a unique record.
Despite these achievements, there was no significant monument to Park prior to the erection of his statue in Trafalgar Square, where it was temporarily installed on the fourth plinth. Now there is a permanent statue of Park in Waterloo Place which was unveiled on Battle of Britain Day, 15th September 2010 - the 70th anniversary of the Battle. Now Sir Keith can forever gaze over the city he defended.