5 Nov 2009

NZ war hero Keith Park honoured in London

10:29 am on 5 November 2009

A statue has been raised to Sir Keith Park in central London for his role in the Battle of Britain during World War II.

The New Zealander commanded Royal Air Force squadrons which defended London and south-east England from Luftwaffe attacks in the summer of 1940.

The statue was commissioned by the Sir Keith Park Memorial Campaign. Chairman Terry Smith says the statue symbolises the help New Zealand gave Britain in times of peril.

Mr Smith says Sir Keith's contribution in particular stands out, as it is likely that he saved London from invasion by Germany.

More than 1000 invited guests, including RAF veterans and members of Sir Keith's family and New Zealand High Commissioner Derek Leask, attended the event on Wednesday.

The ceremony included a spitfire and typhoon flypast and an address by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who said the city owes an enormous debt to Sir Keith for his actions.

Mr Johnson admitted he had been surprised by the scale of Sir Keith's achievements when he started looking into calls for a statue in his honour.

"I could not believe how much he had done on behalf of this country, and how little this country knew about what he had done."

The glass fibre sculpture was unveiled on Wednesday and will occupy the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for six months. A permanent bronze version will be erected in nearby Waterloo Place on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in September 2010.

Sir Keith Park's great-great-nephew Terence Stevens-Prior says he deserves to be in such a prominent position and is not worried that he won't be in Trafalgar Square permanently.

"London would not be the way it is today without the man now standing on the fourth plinth. I'm just very happy to see him up there. I think the theory is that Queen Elizabeth will end up there - I think that's fair enough."

Mr Stevens-Prior is happy there will be a permanent tribute to Sir Keith near New Zealand House. "He will be here a lot longer than all of us."