September 15, 2010 / 1:22 PM / 8 years ago

WW2 New Zealand hero gets UK statue 70 years on

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A bronze statue of New Zealand pilot Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, who played a key role in defeating the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain 70 years ago, will be unveiled in London on Wednesday.

A member of the Royal Air Force stands before a statue of World War Two era Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Parker after its offical unveiling in London September 15, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

At the outbreak of the World War Two, Park was commanding the Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons that defended the southeast of England, and he is regarded as one of the key figures in a decisive early phase of the conflict.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler attempted to gain air superiority over England and the battles involving British Spitfire and Hurricane fighters reached their height in August, 1940.

Germany’s failure is widely seen as a major factor in preventing an attempted land invasion launched from the sea across the English Channel.

Douglas Bader, one of the most famous RAF pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain, once said: “The awesome responsibility for this country’s survival rested squarely on Keith Park’s shoulders.”

Financier Terry Smith, who led the campaign to have a permanent memorial erected in London and funded the statue, said Park was an unsung hero who had been overlooked for too long.

“I think he was a New Zealander, he was an understated, modest guy and he didn’t play the political game,” Smith said, explaining why he thought Park had not had the recognition he deserved.

“The official history of the Battle of Britain doesn’t even mention him.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson and several Battle of Britain veterans are among those expected to attend a ceremony to present the larger-than-life bronze statue of the airman, which will stand in Waterloo Place near New Zealand House.

A series of events are being held across Britain this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the famous aerial battle.

Park died in 1975 aged 82.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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