This week we return to the reminiscences of Brian Wratten, who for 34 years was chauffeur to Lucian Brett Ercolani.

For nearly 50 years Lucian was the Managing Director (from 1945, jointly with his brother Barry), then Chairman (from 1976), of the iconic furniture company Ercol.

The company was founded in High Wycombe in 1921 by Lucian’s father. He was also called Lucian, but was universally known throughout the company, from Directors to the cleaning and canteen staff, as “The Old Man”.

We resume the story from 1939, when WW2 was fast approaching. Being from Italy could potentially have created problems for the Ercolani family and their business interests, so the ‘Old Man’ decided to act proactively. He immediately contacted the War Office and offered to swing the factory behind the war effort.

Brian continues his memories as told to him as he was chauffeuring Lucian junior: “This offer was quickly accepted and for the next six years or so the factory made items like ammunition boxes, and even tent pegs, by the million. Lucian told me that his father was such a perfectionist that the tent pegs were sent out sanded and highly polished, the only problem was that they wouldn’t stay in the ground! So that practice had to be abandoned.

Lucian and his younger brother Barry further demonstrated the family’s commitment to the Allied cause in the war against Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy by enlisting in the Royal Air Force. They both saw action in the different theatres of the war, with Lucian rising to Wing Commander (see Nostalgia November 19, 2021) and Barry to Flight Lieutenant.

Lucian never spoke much about his experiences and certainly never in a boastful way. When he did tell me tales they were mostly funny or poignant. For example, one evening he and a friend met two very attractive girls and asked them out. The girls were in their last year at school, around 18 years old and Lucian was probably about 20. When it came time to take them back to their dormitories they found the school gates locked. This didn’t bother the girls as they said that they were used to getting over the wall at the back, but that they would need a push-up.

Gallant Lucian had his girl standing on his shoulders when she dislodged a brick which fell down and hit him on the head, knocking him out. The girls got over ok but Lucian’s friend had to take him to hospital, where they made a fine job of bandaging up his head with a huge bandage. The next few days walking round in uniform he said that he never had to buy a drink because all the landlords thought that he had been wounded in action!

After serving in the European theatre to bomb targets in Germany from home-airfields Lucian was posted to India. From there he would fly out to bomb the infamous Burma railway.

After the war he had a lovely letter from a soldier who had been a prisoner working on the railroad. When the Japanese learnt that there was a bombing raid imminent they would make the prisoners stand on the bridges so if the bridges were bombed the pilots would be killing their own people. So Lucian would fly up the river very low, which was even more dangerous because of flack from the guns guarding the bridges, but he wouldn’t drop any bombs. The Japanese would think that it was just a reconnaissance and put the prisoners back to work. He would then do an about turn and drop his bombs on the way back, but it did mean dodging two lots of flack. The soldier said that they were so grateful to him because by doing that many lives had been saved.

The RAF would not let two brothers serve together, so during the war Lucian saw very little of his brother Barry, but while he was in India he learnt that Barry was serving on an air- station not that far away. Although it was strictly against the rules Lucian borrowed a plane to fly down to see him.

The air-stations in India were pretty basic and everybody slept in tents. So they decided that they would have one really good night out - they would book into the most expensive hotel in the area just for one night and have a really good slap-up meal. When they arrived at the hotel they booked in at the reception, but they were told that the hotel was very full. They were then wafted down corridors and through the back door into the garden, where they were shown to a tent!

To be continued.