Sunday, 26 May 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Sir Keith Park - home to stay

Something very special happened in Thames on Friday last week when a bronze statue of Sir Keith Park was unveiled at the Thames War Memorial Civic Centre.

The statue was the result of a bequest of $200,000 in her will by Betty Hare, a former Coroglen resident who passed away in 2017. Betty’s nephew, Ralph, arranged for the statue to be created and her niece, Wendy (Ralph’s sister), took responsibility for the unveiling ceremony.

Both Ralph and Wendy are Mercury Bay residents.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by several hundred people, including large contingents of Park family members and Mercury Bay residents. Among the dignitaries were the Minister of Defence, Hon Ron Mark, the UK’s Defence Attache to New Zealand, Commander Guy Haywood, and Coromandel MP, Scott Simpson.

One of the highlights of the unveiling was a fly past of classic aircraft.

In his speech, Mr Mark referred to Sir Keith’s many accomplishments on the battlefield, most notably the fact that he, as a pilot, shot down no less than 11 enemy aircraft in World War I and his exemplary leadership of Britain’s air defence against Germany’s Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain in World War II. The Battle of Britain lasted from July to October 1940.

Sir Keith was knighted in 1942.

After his career in the Royal Air Force, Sir Keith returned to New Zealand and settled in Auckland. He worked in the civil aviation industry and persuaded the government to buy land in Mangere to establish an international airport. He also served as an Auckland city councillor for three terms. He passed away in 1975.

In her speech, Lesley Park, the granddaughter of Sir Keith’s brother, spoke of a humble man who never turned up empty handed. “We never knew of Uncle Keith’s accomplishments,” Lesley said. “We knew him as a true gentleman - humble, kind and always erect. He was a very good sportsman and always competitive. He always loved flying and into his 70s he flew with pilots at Ardmore Airport who handed him the controls one they were up in the air.”

When it was Wendy hare’s turn to say a few words, she spoke of her aunty, Betty Hare. “Aunty Betty believed that Sir Keith didn’t receive the recognition he deserved in New Zealand and wanted to raise awareness of his achievements on the world stage,” Wendy said. “She wanted Sir Keith’s statue to be installed in Thames, the town of his birth.

“Sir Keith went to fight in World War I as a young man. It was 31 years before he returned to New Zealand and now, more than 70 years after he came back, we can unveil his statue. Sir Keith, you are home to stay.”

Pictured: Wendy Hare helping to unveil Sir Keith Park’s statue in Thames on Saturday.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.