Sir Keith Park memorial airfield, Thames

On 15 September 2010 Thames Airfield was formally renamed Sir Keith Park Memorial Airfield in honour of  Sir Keith Rodney Park (1892-1975). Sir Keith, who had been born in Thames, served first as a soldier then as a pilot during the First World War. After the war, he remained in the Royal Air Force. In 1940 he was promoted to Air vice-marshall and given command of No. 11 Group of the RAF Fighter Command, responsible for the defence of London and south-east England during the Battle of Britain. His leadership was instrumental in defeating Germany in the air and thus preventing a land invasion of Britain. Among other appointments later in the war, Sir Keith commanded the British air forces during the pivotal Battle of Malta. He was promoted to Air Chief Marshal and retired in 1946. He returned to New Zealand, where he took up a number of civic roles.

A memorial stone previously erected at the airfield and unveiled on 17 September 2000 honours not only Sir Keith but the 79 New Zealand airmen who had been killed during the Battle of Britain. The principal inscription reads:

THIS MEMORIAL IS / DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY / OF THAMES BORN / Air Chief Marshal Sir KEITH PARK / Commander 11 Group During The Battle of Britain / THIS MEMORIAL IS ALSO DEDICATED TO THOSE / NEW ZEALAND AND OTHER ALLIED / AIRCREW WHO FOUGHT WITH Sir KEITH / DURING THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN / BETWEEN JULY AND OCTOBER 1940 / DEDICATED ON THE  60th ANNIVERSARY /OF THIS BATTLE / SEPTEMBER 17th 2000 [.]

There follows a list of the sixteen New Zealanders who died fighting with Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain (Flying Officer James Allen, Pilot Officer John Bickerdike, Flying Officer Donald Cobden, Pilot Officer John Kemp, Pilot Officer Rudal Kidson, Pilot Officer Cecil Hight, Pilot Officer Howard Hill, Sergeant David Hughes, Squadron Leader Terence Lovell-Gregg,Pilot Officer Eric Orglas, Flight Lieutenant James Paterson, Sergeant Laurie Rasmussen, Flying Officer Geoffrey Simpson, Flying Officer Kenneth Wendel, Pilot Officer Wycliff Williams, Sergeant Robert Young), along with an acknowledgement of 63 other New Zealanders who died on other duties in the United Kingdom while serving in the RAF, Bomber, Coastal, Maintenance and Flying Training commands during the Battle of Britain.

On 13 September 2020 a replica of a Hurricane fighter as used during the Battle of Britain was unveiled at the airfield. The previous year, a bronze statue of Sir Keith in his dress uniform had been unveiled outside the Thames War Memorial Civic Centre. Work is underway to erect a complementary statue of Sir Keith in his flying outfit beneath the Hurricane.

Elsewhere on the airfield a memorial puriri tree commemorates a civilian pilot, Gregory Keith Hale, who was killed on a flight spraying agricultural chemicals on 24 July 2002.

See: 'New name honours hero', Hauraki Herald, 17/9/2010; Althea Barker, Thames Memorials & Plaques, Thames, 2016, p. 10; 'Sir Keith Park to be memorialised with a bronze statue in hometown Thames', Hauraki Herald, 1/4/2019; 'Kiwi legend Sir Keith Park who "saved the world" honoured in his hometown', NZ Herald, 27/4/2019; Chloe Blommerde, 'Fighter replica brings Thames link to Battle of Britain alive on 80th anniversary' (Stuff, 13/9/2020).

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