Suffolk entrepreneur and brave war veteran Harry Erben dies at 98
- Credit: Archant
Harry was shot down while fighting the Nazis over Europe. Later, the businessman brought a huge number of jobs to Hadleigh
Suffolk entrepreneur Harry Erben has died - after an amazing 98 years of life.
He escaped the rise of the Nazis in his native Austria and went on to join the RAF in his adopted England. Harry flew nearly 50 sorties over Germany before being shot down and becoming a prisoner of war.
After peace was secured, he started a business in one room above a shop. It moved to Suffolk just over 50 years ago and was a huge employer in the town of Hadleigh.
"Harry Erben was a man of style and generosity; a superb entrepreneur and businessman - widely read and entertaining," says a family friend. "Time spent in his company was an experience and a pleasure, and one invariably felt richer for the experience."
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Heinz (Harry) Georg Roland Erben was born in Vienna on August 15, 1921.
He was of Slovak-Hungarian ancestry, though spent the majority of his life in England. He and most of his immediate family managed to escape Nazi tyranny in Austria in 1938 but many relatives were less fortunate and perished in the gas chambers.
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Harry is remembered as, forever, a grateful and appreciative Anglophile, although he identified equally with Europe and his roots and was very much a European.
He joined the RAF in 1942 and was selected for aircrew. He became a navigator in the Pathfinders, flying in de Havilland Mosquitoes and making 46 sorties over Germany before being shot down and baling out.
Harry became a prisoner of war and was incarcerated in the Nuremberg area of Germany. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
After leaving the RAF he set up a business in July, 1951, in a one-room office. It was above gentlemen's outfitters on the Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, London, and sold wine-bottling sundries and bottle caps to the wine trade.
Harry got about, in those early days, by bike and then his trusted Morris Minor Traveller. With his mother-tongue of German, and what's described as his engaging personality, he soon obtained agencies for a number of German bottling machinery manufacturers. The business grew fast.
Ever the innovator, Harry opened a wine laboratory and employed a distinguished wine chemist from Germany. It was not long before winemakers were beating a path to his door to learn the latest techniques.
In 1955 the firm supplied pressing and bottling machinery to Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, who planted the first commercial vineyard in the UK for a century.
Over the next few years H. Erben Limited became the major supplier of bottling and packaging equipment - and specialised, quality, bottle-tops - to the UK beverage industry.
By the mid 1960s the company had outgrown its London premises and in 1968 moved to a custom-built facility in Hadleigh.
It was one of the first offices to be open plan: another innovation of Harry's. Over the next few years the business expanded rapidly and at one time Erbens was the largest employer in Hadleigh.
In 1982 the firm entered the Californian market. An agency was set up with San Francisco-based Cal Glass Company.
In 1996 Harry's son Sasha joined the company, taking over as managing director in 2000. Five years later, Erben Packaging South Africa Ltd was launched.
In the spring of 2018 H. Erben Ltd became part of Berlin Packaging. It nowadays trades as Bruni Erben, with its headquarters still there on Lady Lane Industrial Estate in Hadleigh.
Harry leaves wife Greta and sons Michael, David, Samuel and Sasha.
Their friend says: "He loved his family and was proud that two of his sons have followed him into the business, which is now run successfully by his youngest son, Sasha."