Park was a New Zealander, drawn to Europe by the First World War. He served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front from 1915-1916. He saw warfare at its grimy, fearful worst as a lowly infantry man. He also forged the leadership skills that he would call on in the coming decade.
He recalled his Anzac Commander, Sir William Birdwood and tried to follow many of his precepts: attention to detail, regular tours of inspection, indifference to personal danger and the ability to relax without cheapening authority.
He transfered to the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and was a highly accomplished pilot, ending the war as an ace.
He spent the inter-war years as a diplomat and served as a flight commander on No. 25 Squadron from 1919 to 1920 before taking up duties as a squadron commander at the School of Technical Training.
As commander of 11 Group during the Battle of Britain, he was responsible for the air defence of London and South-East England. He combined his thorough understanding of aerial warfare with inspired tactical decisions.
Terry Smith, chairman of the Sir Keith Park Memorial Campaign, writes: “While Sir Hugh Dowding controlled the Battle from day to day, it was Keith Park who controlled it hour by hour”.
Air Vice-Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, one of the top Allied air aces of the war, said: “He was the only man who could have lost the war in a day or even an afternoon”.
Wave after wave of German bombing sorties met with stubborn resistance from the fighter squadrons under Park’s command and, by mid-September, it was clear that Britain’s defences had held and Hitler was forced to abandon the planned invasion of Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “never… was so much owed by so many to so few”. It was Keith Park who led “the Few”.