To mark the 70th anniversary of the day which saw the peak air activity of the Battle of Britain, a bronze statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park was unveiled in Waterloo Place, central London.
The ceremony, at the end of Lower Regent Street, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, was the culmination of a campaign to honour this unsung hero of the Battle of Britain.
During the battle, Air Chief Marshal Park, a New Zealander, was Commander of No 11 Group, Fighter Command, which was responsible for the protection of London and the South East of England. But until now no formal tribute to this war hero existed.
Now, 70 years after victory over the Luftwaffe, this omission has been corrected thanks to the efforts of Terry Smith, chairman of the Sir Keith Park Memorial Campaign.
Mr Smith said:
I believe we have now found a fitting way to remember Air Chief Marshal Park, with this statue permanently and prominently placed in the heart of the capital city of the country he did so much to defend in 1940.
Speaking at the ceremony, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, said:
This statue is a fitting memorial in our capital city to a man without whom the history of the Battle of Britain could have been so disastrously different.
I would like to borrow the words from one of my predecessors, Lord Tedder, who said of Park, ‘If ever one man won the Battle of Britain, he did’.
I don’t believe it is recognised how much this one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save not only this country, but the world.’
The ceremony started with a flypast by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, sparking applause from the audience.
Among the 1,000 invited guests were all the UK Chiefs of Staff, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and representatives from commonwealth and other countries whose airmen Air Chief Marshal Park commanded.
Among those on the podium beside the nine-foot-high (2.7m) statue were Chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox and his counterpart from New Zealand, Dr Wayne Mapp.
Ms Leigh Park, the great-great niece of Sir Keith Park, veterans of the Battle of Britain and members of the public were also there to hear the many tributes. During the battle, 2,940 pilots from 14 countries fought alongside British aircrew:
Never forget that Britain did not stand alone, this statue also commemorates commonwealth aircrew who fought to defend Britain in 1940,” said Mr Smith.
As the Guard of Honour, provided by the RAF’s Queen’s Colour Squadron, marched off to music provided by the Band of the RAF Regiment, a taxi horn sounded, and the bustling London traffic made its way along Pall Mall and into Haymarket.
An everyday humdrum tribute to all that Air Chief Marshal Park and the men he commanded achieved 70 years ago when the fate of the free world hung in the balance.
A similar statue of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park was once mounted on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2009 as a temporary exhibit.