70th Battle of Britain Anniversary: speech at unveiling of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park statue, London, 15 September

  • Wayne Mapp

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp in front of Sir Keith Park’s statue in Waterloo Place, London after the unveiling with the British Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, left, and New Zealand Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott.

It is now three generations since the fate of the free world was decided in the skies over Britain.

In 1940, it was only a century since the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed, and large-scale British settlement had started to occur in New Zealand. The bonds and connections between New Zealand and Britain were still very deep. Many families were only one or two generations removed from Britain.

Britain's struggle was New Zealand's struggle. As our Prime Minister of the time, Michael Joseph Savage, said:

"With gratitude for the past and confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand".

The Battle of Britain occurred at a time when Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone.  The fate of our nations was dependent on "the Few": the pilots in their fighter aircraft, the technicians who kept them flying, the controllers in the command posts and the leaders who shaped, directed and controlled the action.

Central to this leadership was the inspirational figure of Sir Keith Park, at that time an Air Vice Marshal in command of 11 Group RAF. He was the leader in charge of the front line.

As New Zealanders, we are very proud to call Sir Keith one of our own. Sir Keith was already a combat veteran. He had served in Gallipoli and at the Somme in the First World War. He was one of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who fought in that tumultuous conflict.

Our servicemen made great sacrifices, which are firmly part of New Zealand's national consciousness and history. 

Twenty years later, another generation of New Zealanders answered Britain's call. One hundred and twenty-six New Zealand pilots fought in the Battle of Britain - the largest group from any Commonwealth country.

We are honoured to be joined by some of "the Few" - the veterans of the Battle of Britain. One of them, Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner, has travelled all the way from Tauranga, New Zealand to be here.

We thank you all for the contributions and sacrifices that you and your comrades made to ensure the freedoms that we enjoy today.

This statue commemorates Sir Keith Park's personal courage and leadership. It is an enduring reminder of the closeness of the deep and enduring relationship between our two countries - a bond forged in a long history of shared commitment and sacrifice.

Our security and defence relationship continues today, built on the values and spirit that have joined us in times of peace, and in times of adversity. I pay particular tribute to the service men and women of both our nations, and many others, who are helping bring a greater sense of stability and security to Afghanistan.

Today's unveiling would not have happened without the sterling work and support of many people. I especially pay tribute to Terry Smith for leading this initiative. I thank the RAF for their support and presence here today, particularly the evocative flyover of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Sculptor Les Johnson has captured the essence of Sir Keith in this fine statue.

His work will ensure that Sir Keith is fully recognised as one of Britain's, and New Zealand's, great military leaders.

Inscribed in the memorial alcove in the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch are lines taken from English poet Stephen Spender's work "The Truly Great". It was written in the 1930s, but stands as an epitaph to all those who took part in the Battle of Britain:

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,

See how these names are feted by the waving grass

And by the streamers of white cloud

And whispers of wind in the listening sky.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life,

Who were at their hearts the fire's centre.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while towards the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Lest we forget.