Once again we return to the reminiscences of Brian Wratten, who for 34 years was chauffeur to Lucian Brett Ercolani (previous articles were on January 21, 2022 and November 18, 2021).

In the last article we left the story when Lucian was serving as a Squadron Leader at an air station in India during WW2. The action included bombing raids on the infamous Burma railway, which was under construction using POW labour. Brian continues:

A trip with the Area Commander

“As a squadron leader Lucian oversaw the bombing campaign from his air station, but one morning the overall Area Commander turned up and said that he wanted a tour of the airfields. Lucian had an American Willy’s jeep for his personal transport, and as they headed towards it to start the tour the commander insisted on driving.

So they set off along the jungle tracks at a pace that was much too fast for the conditions. Lucian suggested that they slow down a bit, but the commander ignored the suggestion. A few minutes later they took a bend in the track and went out of control. The jeep left the road and ploughed into the forest where it hit a tree at high speed. Being an open vehicle Lucian was thrown out into the bushes, and he ended up with a broken arm. He walked back to the jeep and found the commander still sitting behind the wheel, but he was dead, with a broken neck.

The jeep was a writeoff and Lucian was miles from anywhere with no means of communication, so he walked back to the road and sat down to wait. Eventually an Army lorry came along driven by a private. Lucian flagged him down and explained what had happened and told him that he had a dead officer in the woods. The private refused to help Lucian. His excuse was that he was Army and Lucian was RAF, and that he had been ordered to go straight to his base to unload. After Lucian had poked his service revolver in the private’s ear and insisted that he help, the private drove both Lucian and the commander to the nearest hospital.

The Japanese surrender

After the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Japanese surrender soon followed. Lucian then found himself with the most difficult part of his RAF career.

He was posted to an office job, sitting behind a desk all day trying to sort out and repatriate all the airmen who had been released from various Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, plus personnel that had, for one reason or another found themselves separated from their units and had ended up all over Japan. Some were wounded, some had been ill-treated, many had mental health problems, and some were just plain lost.

He, along with other officers, had the job of trying to sort out what to do with each individual. Some needed treatment in hospitals that were already overwhelmed with the sheer numbers. Others needed to be shipped home to England, where they could easily find their families and home gone in the bombing blitz of London, Coventry, Portsmouth and so many other towns and cities that had suffered.

Communication between Britain and the camps was either sparse or non-existent and many men had been there for years. It was quite possible for an airman to have been reported missing in action and his family mourn his death only to have him turn up at home after several years. The situation was a nightmare for all concerned and it took many weeks to sort out.

Demobbed at last

Lucian at last got his own demob papers and was allowed to return home. The last few months had been a double blow for Lucian, because he really wasn’t a desk-man and he missed flying greatly. It was also difficult for Lucian to return home and carry on as before. He had spent every day in the last five years flying and wondering if it would be his last. Many things had changed in the factory and it took time to come back down to earth, if you’ll pardon the pun.

He did get a chance to fly once more later in life, when I took him to an air show at his old squadron HQ. The station commander arranged for someone to take him up in a two-seater training aircraft, during which he took the controls for most of the flight. When he got back in the car I asked him how it had gone and if he remembered how to fly. He looked at me and grinned, ‘like riding a bike’ he said.”

To be continued.