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Thread: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

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    Default Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    I am a New Zealander in the UK. I recently visited a well-known aviation museum which includes a strong emphasis on the Battle of Britain. In the museum I was particularly interested in mentions of the roles of NZers in the BoB and in other aspects covered by this museum, both in WW1 and WW2. I came across one information board about Sir Keith Park which ran to 500 words in their Battle of Britain display. Of the 500 words the information about Keith Park's role in the BoB was this: ...during the Battle of Britain his command took the brunt of the Luftwaffe attacks. He kept in touch with his command by flying his personalised Hurricane around 11 Group airfields. After the battle Park and Dowding were considered to be too defensive-minded and both were replaced.

    This was the total comment from the museum about his role in the BoB. The information about Dowding was not particularly effusive either. I have approached the museum twice suggesting the information is not particularly reflective of Park's role and could be revised to convey a more accurate reflection of the leadership Park (and Dowding) displayed. The first reply from the historian who wrote the words, centred on his belief that it would take 'many information boards' to convey a better picture. I replied with a 500 word precis of Keith Park's roles in the RAF, WW1, between the wars and WW2. A second reply was received saying that the historian and the 'board' of the museum were happy with the original information board as we consider the present wording of the Keith Park display board to be balanced regarding his career and factually accurate.

    This, I believe, is a great injustice to Keith Park. In essence the museum is happy that their information about Park: 1. 11 Group took the brunt of Luftwffe attacks. b. Park flew around in a personalised Hurricane and c. Park was considered too defensive-minded and was replaced, is factually accurate.

    I believe: a. the information is inaccurate by omission alone... there is no recognition of Park's vital leadership in the BoB. b. It borders on deliberately dismissive of Park's role in the BoB (also Dowding). c. It is reflective of past 'official' reasoning for Park and Dowding being replaced rather than the barely hidden reasons of 11 Group/12 Group discord and the Big Wing tensions which have been fully exposed in more recent years. d. The museum, like any museum, has a responsibility to record history as accurately as it can.

    I would appreciate some feedback from anyone as to their opinions on this. It has left me a little despondent about this museum, its goals and what it is conveying to the public who visit it.

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    Default Re: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    Nipper: here’s a thought: prepare an essay on Park, with wartime memos and documents detailing the disputes (was Leigh Malory involved?) and get it published in a reputable peer reviewed historical journal. Then take it to the Museum in question. Then get some support from the NZAF. Might take a few years.

    Care to provide the name of “said museum”? Don’t be shy!

    Jim

    Jim

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    Default Re: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    Thanks for your thoughts Jim. In the case of this museum I think the opinions are, sadly, entrenched. It was revealing to me that three of the museum's volunteers all said that Park and Dowding were badly treated and that the display board was not a great summary.
    This is the concern when a museum historian, curator and director hold an entrenched view which was espoused for decades post-war, almost unquestioned. History does not change but our understanding of it does. We now know that Park and Dowding were shabbily treated mainly because of the misplaced aspirations and jealousy of a couple of key senior RAF officers and one very aspirational junior one at the time.
    There was fault on both sides re personalities, as there always is. This is not 'revisionist history' it is correctly interpreting what was incorrectly portrayed originally due to war-time 'explanations'. The 'smoke-screens' of the post-war years have now thinned to more clearly reveal what went on and the undermining roles of some behind the scenes.
    But, as I say, the Museum is entrenched in this position and will continue to display the Keith Park board in the Battle of Britain display. Those who view the display will have little idea, if they rely on the information on Park and Dowding, as to their impact on the outcome.

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    Default Re: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    I'm not sure that the term "shabbily treated" is completely fair in either case. Dowding was maintained in his position well past the normal time for an officer to hold such an appointment, and was eventually moved following the failure of Fighter Command to be adequately prepared for night bombing, rather than disagreements about the daylight actions. Given the increasing reliance on US aircraft, and the importance of the USA in general, sending this victorious commander in the very public BoB over as the main representative is hardly a demotion. Park went on to do great things in Malta and SEAC, suggesting that confidence in him was retained.

    Too close a concentration on one element in the proceedings can create every bit as false an impression as the original unsatisfactory one.

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    Default Re: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    Quote Originally Posted by JDCAVE View Post
    Care to provide the name of “said museum”? Don’t be shy!

    Jim
    Hi Jim
    I am assuming (rightly or wrongly) that the museum is Hawkinge.
    If correct AFAIK it is a privately owned museum and contains an absolute treasure of artefacts from both pilots and aircraft,we have only managed to visit once and I was going cross eyed because of the sheer amount of stuff to look at - we only had limited time as we live 500 miles up the road and were trying to squeeze in too many places whilst on holiday.
    My impression was that the collection is really to commemorate the operational aircrew rather than senior officers per se.
    I agree with Graham that the RAF thought very highly of Park - not many people make it to ACM after all !
    Any rank above Group Captain is much more likely to be involved in service politics and promotions are earned/given in very different ways to non Air Rank Officers.
    As I posted above it is a privately owned/run museum and as such it is their toy box to do what they wish with.

    regards baz

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    Default Re: Sir Keith Park Battle of Britain

    Rather than fuel further speculation as to the museum, it is not Hawkinge. The Museum I approached regarding the accuracy of the Park information is Tangmere.

    The museum has included their information board by choice, so it should be balanced and accurate. Although a museum may be private or in the hands of trustees it should convey things accurately. In the case of my original post I question the balance and accuracy of their information and have commented on the treatment of Park after the BoB. That he later gained better appointments and increased rank was due to his consistent performance as a leader.

    For the museum to only highlight that Park's 11 Group took the brunt of Luftwaffe attacks, that Park flew his personalised Hurricane to airfields to keep in touch and that he was moved out because of being thought too defensive-minded is not at all accurately portraying Park's BoB leadership... that is my point.

    Ironically Park's SEAC appointment was gained only after Leigh-Mallory was killed in a plane crash in the French Alps on his way to take up leadership of SEAC.

    Re Dowding being retained, he was kept on because the Dowding system was seen as a vital aspect if the RAF was to defend successfully and Dowding was the developer . I am interested in reading about Dowding being retired due to Fighter Command being unprepared for night bombing, I had not heard of this reason being given.

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