Squadron Leader Jack Brotherton-Ratcliffe DSO
Squadron leader Jack Brotherton-Ratcliffe. D.S.O.
Born: November 18th 1919, Ealing. Died: December 24th 2009 Age: 90
Please see footnote regarding people who would like to contact the family.
Jack Brotherton-Ratcliffe, who has died aged 90, co-founded the Croudace group of companies, one of the biggest and most successful privately-owned construction companies in Britain.
He enjoyed a colourful and successful career in the wartime RAF, piloting Liberators and Halifaxes on more than 90 operations during 1943 and 1944, and ending the war as a squadron-leader. For his exploits he was awarded the DSO.
John Brotherton-Ratcliffe, known as Jack, was born on November 18 1919, the fifth of a family of seven. His early years were spent in Ealing and later Kenley, with a year in Belgium when he was six to ensure he could speak his French mother’s language.
At Harrow, Ratcliffe had mixed success, excelling in gymnastics and electro-mechanics. He was in the Officer Training Corps and had a keen interest in flying, building a kit aircraft, the “Flying Flea”, which had a very dubious safety record. Fortunately, before he and his brothers could test it, their father confiscated the propeller.
In 1938 he went up to Balliol College, Oxford to read Physics and learned to fly with the University Air Squadron.
At the outbreak of war he joined the RAF and completed his training at Cranwell before becoming a flying instructor. In July 1941 he left for South Africa where he trained pilots at an air school in the Transvaal. After two years he moved to the Middle East and converted to the Liberator heavy bomber.
Ratcliffe joined No 148 Squadron at Gambut in Libya in April 1943. The squadron had a special duties role, its main task being to drop arms and agents into the Balkans where partisans were operating. When not engaged on these missions Ratcliffe carried out bombing raids on targets in Italy and southern Europe.
On October 21 1943 he unexpectedly found himself detailed to fly a Dakota to a remote landing strip in Greece where he was to pick up 26 people before flying back to Gambut. He had never flown the aircraft type before and, after two brief familiarisation sorties, he completed the operation successfully.
Ratcliffe had completed almost 70 operations when No 148 replaced its Liberators with the Halifax, flying from an airfield in southern Italy. Returning from an abortive supply-dropping operation over Yugoslavia, severe weather and a shortage of fuel forced the crew to bale out and they were rescued from the Gulf of Taranto.
Six weeks later, on January 10 1944, Ratcliffe and his crew were detailed to make two drops to partisans in Albania and Greece.
On the outward journey one of the four engines failed but the crew pressed on. After making the first drop, Ratcliffe flew on to the second dropping zone in a valley. Another engine failed and the aircraft was unable to climb away so he ordered his crew to bale out.
Ratcliffe remained at the controls until the last man had left, by which time the aircraft was too low for him to parachute to safety and he was forced to make a crash landing in a maize field.
The crew managed to join up and make contact with Greek partisans and their British liaison officer who took them back to his base in the mountains. After spending a few weeks in hiding, Ratcliffe and his crew were picked up by the Royal Navy and taken to Italy. He was awarded the DSO for “his skill, courage and devotion to duty”.
In July 1944, Ratcliffe left No148 and served with a mobile operations wing in Italy. He was released from the RAF as a squadron leader in December 1945.
He trained on Liberators and Halifaxes and in 1943 moved to Libya from where he flew supplies to rebel groups across the Balkans, and also undertook bombing missions.
After the war, not wanting to resume his undergraduate career, Ratcliffe joined his next door neighbour, Oliver Croudace, in his fledgling construction company.
At once Ratcliffe saw the opportunities both for renovation and for new council and private housing in the South East, by then scarred by bomb damage and years of neglect, and where a strong political drive for more houses meant that planning restrictions were few.
Ratcliffe bought out his partner and began rapidly to expand Croudace’s business, gearing it up for the acquisition of sites for private housing. In 1946 the groundbreaking New Towns Act had heralded the incoming Labour government’s political dynamic for town and country development, and the subsequent Conservative governments of the 1950s continued housing policies which among other things facilitated the release of land for building.
During these years Ratcliffe rode the crest of a wave, achieving large-scale success with contracts for developments in Surrey and, especially, in the development of Crawley New Town.
An innovator in his style of management, Ratcliffe pioneered the introduction of time and motion studies on building sites, supported by centralised formal control systems.
These far-sighted methods enabled him to collect and accurately evaluate data for forecasting project profitability, and so radically to increase Croudace’s business during a series of building booms in both the private and local authority sectors.
Ratcliffe continued to respond to new commercial challenges, and with his 1974 acquisition of Maybrook, an ailing property investment company, he added a new arm to Croudace’s operations, enabling it to continue to prosper through the property sector’s golden years in the 1980s.
Despite the inevitable periods of economic recession, which saw so many of his competitors fail, Ratcliffe’s firm control and lucid appreciation of his market enabled him to sustain his company’s success.
In all his business dealings Ratcliffe insisted on an ethical approach, in part a consequence of his admiration for his great-uncle, the last Lord Brotherton, a philanthropist and successful industrialist in his native Yorkshire. A humanist and dedicated family man, Ratcliffe was generous both with his wealth and with his time, while eschewing any desire for public recognition.
Jack Brotherton-Ratcliffe, who died on Christmas Eve, married, in 1945, Rona Greengrass.
She predeceased him in 1995. Their two sons and two daughters survive him.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph Obituaries column.
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We also seek to commemorate all those not published by The Daily Telegraph and would be pleased to receive your contributions so that the memories of these aircrew may be preserved.
I have just viewed the obituary of the above said person and I would like to mention my father Mr. Walter Staddon (known affectionately by Mr. Ratcliffe as “Staddy”.
We as a family were living at Aldershot throughout the war and come the end my Dad was out of work and as I know applied for a job in Caterham which turned out to be with Croudace where they were situated on a floor over a corn merchants in Caterham Valley, on the corner of I think Timberhill Road.
My Dad was the first person in alongside Mr. Oliver Croudce and Jack Ratcliffe’s younger brother Charles. All worked very well and my Dad was asked to become a Director in about 1950 but he said “give it to a younger man!”
When it was my Dad’s parents Golden Wedding he loaned his Vauxhall Velox perhaps of the time for us to arrive in style !! Dad was the first person in, and with his experience of his own building business prior to the war breaking out, he was able to teach them all sorts of things and I well remember as a young girl of 10 or 11 going through this stable door and ascending the loft stairs to the first office. We were welcome guests with Dad, Mum and my sister being invited to the Ratcliffe household in Kenley which appeared luxurious to us and meeting his most beautiful wife Rhona.
There then appeared Diana and Tony. He later designed their first owned house at Godstone in Surrey which was styled on a Spanish style hacienda, but after that we were not part of the dynasty as University educated people came in, although Harry Orr, who Dad taught to by bags of nails and Mr. Wigley became Directors.
Life has a great way of turning itself on it’s head, but Dad would never say a word out of place as regards Mr. Ratcliffe and I would love Diana and Tony to view this letter.
Yours Pat Green (Mrs)
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
If you have additional information or photographs to add to this Obituary please contact us.
We also seek to commemorate all those not published by The Daily Telegraph and would be pleased to receive your contributions.
Article prepared by Barry Howard.