Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Coroglen family’s role in the unveiling of Sir Keith Park statue

Keith Park, will be unveiled outside the War Memorial Civic Centre in Thames.

Betty Hare, a former Coroglen resident who passed away in 2017, left $200,000 in her will for the statue to be created and installed.

Betty’s nephew, Ralph Hare, organized the creation of the statue. Betty’s niece, Wendy Hare (Ralph’s sister), is planning the unveiling ceremony.

Born in Thames in 1892, Sir Keith was a fighter pilot who carved out a prestigious career in the Royal Air Force. Soon after World War II began, he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal and given command of No 11 Group of the RAF, the aviation group responsible for the defence of London and south-east England during the pivotal Battle of Britain.

Germany’s failure to defeat the RAF was their first major defeat of the war and prevented a land invasion of Britain.

Sir Keith was knighted in 1942. After WWII, he moved back to New Zealand and settled in Auckland, where he worked in the civil aviation industry. He persuaded the New Zealand government to buy land in Mangere to establish Auckland International Airport at its current location. He also served as an Auckland city councillor for three terms.

Sir Keith Park passed away in Auckland in 1975. The Thames airfield is named in his honour, as is the aviation collection of the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.

Sir Keith Park Special School was also opened in Mangere for children and young people with intellectual disabilities or complex special needs.

Betty Hare’s family has a military history. Her father, William John Hare, served in World War I as a stretcher bearer with the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces before later transitioning to the Royal Navy. For many years he was also chairman of the Coromandel County Council.

Born in Wales, Betty’s mother became a nurse and worked in France during World War I. She met William in France, they got married in London and moved to New Zealand after the war. They settled on a farm near Coroglen, which is where Betty was born and raised.

Growing up, Betty had to catch a dingy ride with one of her older brothers across the Whenuakite river and then walk some 3km to Coroglen School. She attended secondary school in Auckland, but later returned to Coroglen and worked on the family farm.

After WWII, Betty left to train as a physiotherapist in Dunedin, ending up in Auckland where she opened her own practice. The Coroglen farm is still in the family. It’s at the moment being farmed by Ralph Hare.

“Even though she spent most of her adult life away from the farm, it always felt like home for Aunty Betty,” says Wendy Hare.

Betty was a very private and modest person and didn’t tell anyone about her plans for the statue. “From a young age Betty was very passionate about New Zealanders who achieved great things,” says Wendy. “She was very patriotic and was especially interested in people whose achievements were not so well-known. In 2010, a statue of Sir Keith was installed at Waterloo Place in London and I think Betty felt that it was important we recognise him in New Zealand - specifically in Thames where he was born.”    

Minister of Defence, Hon Ron Mark, and the UKs defence attache to New Zealand, Commander Guy Haywood, will be among the dignitaries at the unveiling ceremony on 27 April. The ceremony will feature an air force honour guard, a flypast of classic military planes from the New Zealand Warbirds Association and afterwards, a presentation on Sir Keith Park by aerial warfare specialist, Dr Adam Classen.

Approximately 20 members of the Park family are expected to attend the unveiling.

Pictured: The bronze statue of Sir Keith Park that will be unveiled in Thames on Saturday 27 April.


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