R.I.P Major Tony Hibbert

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by Jonathan Ball, Oct 13, 2014.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Sad to learn earlier from our friend, Niall Cherry of the passing yesterday of Major Tony Hibbert MBE M.C, Brigade Major of the 1st Parachute Brigade who fought at and was captured at the Bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. Having served with the BEF in France in 1940, in North Africa and later in Italy before ending his war at Kiel in May 1945 with T-Force I'm sure Forum Members would agree he more than did his bit..


    Tony Hibbert was educated at Marlborough but had to leave when he was 16 because of the Great Depression. Sent to Germany by his employer it took only a short while for Tony to appreciate that the country was one huge armed camp preparing for war. In 1935 he packed his bags and skedaddled for home, threw up his job and started to cram for the Royal Military Academy (RMA).

    British Expeditionary Force and Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo)

    Tony passed out of the RMA and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery In January 1938. Later he commanded a half-Battery of 15 AA Battery RA in the British Expeditionary Force, equipped with obsolete guns salvaged from a Russian Cruiser in 1917. He defended the Northern perimeter of Dunkirk for the last four days of the siege and when his ammunition ran out on 31 May he had to destroy his guns. He was later mentioned in despatches for his actions. Tony and his men were evacuated on an old Thames Tug, “Sun X” and eventually reached Ramsgate where they were greeted by hordes of women volunteers who provided them with sustenance and good cheer.

    The Paras and Arnhem

    It took 10 days to collect the survivors of the Regiment in Aberystwyth, albeit armed with rifles and revolvers only. All three subalterns in Tony’s Battery volunteered to join anything that would get them back in the firing line quickly. Tony joined No. 2 (Parachute) Commando, the 'egg' out of which the Parachute Regiment was born. While serving with No 2 Commando, Tony dumbfounded all of his fellow officers by conducting a night jump from the balloon in full mess kit and spurs! A fact attested by both Cicely Paget-Bowman and Arthur Kellas (See also Tony’s No 2 Commando article).

    Tony served with the Paras in North Africa and Italy as a Staff Officer and after completing a course at the Staff College, Camberley, was posted to the 1st British Airborne Division as Brigade Major of No 1 Parachute Brigade in July 1944. Soon after he was involved in planning for the Arnhem Operation and went to Airborne Corps HQ with his Brigade Staff to receive orders from General Browning. After an uneventful drop onto DZ-X, Tony led the Brigade HQ Group in a race to the bridge and joined forces with Lt. Col. Frost and the 2nd Battalion. They were under orders to hold the bridge for 48 hours and in the event they held it for 72 hours against overwhelming odds. Tony and the remnants of the bridge party tried to get back to the Oosterbeek perimeter by infiltrating German lines but all except 2 were taken prisoner. Subsequently, while being transported in a lorry to Germany, Tony escaped by jumping off the back with Major Denis Munford. The SS guard on the truck opened fire on them both and Denis Munford was wounded and later recaptured. Although bruised and bloodied from the jump, Tony escaped injury from the bullets and made good his escape. The SS guard lost his head and then fired into the back of the truck at Tony’s unarmed comrades in retaliation; resulting in the eventual deaths of six soldiers. Commenting later on the tragedy, he observed “this is a burden I shall carry to my grave”.

    After linking up with the Dutch Resistance Army he and other senior British officers were able to round up remnants of the 1st British Airborne Division evading capture, and organise the famous Pegasus I escape. This daring and brilliantly executed operation resulted in the successful evacuation through German lines of 138 men back across the Rhine to Allied positions. Having crossed the river with the others Tony was sitting on the bonnet of his overcrowded jeep when it collided in the dark with another coming in the opposite direction. He broke his leg very badly, resulting in a 5 month hospital stay.

    In 1945 Tony received a Military Cross for his gallant actions at the bridge and during the subsequent escape. In 2009 he donated this MC to the Hartenstein Museum at Oosterbeek in recognition of the acts of heroism performed by the Dutch in sheltering and aiding the beleaguered remnants of the British Airborne Division. (See photos and Tony’s Arnhem article.)

    “T” Force Kiel and End of Military Career

    After discharge from hospital he commanded “T” Force-Kiel, which was tasked to prevent the Russians taking Kiel and Denmark contrary to the Yalta Agreement. (See www.majorhibbertslog.co.uk Operation Eclipse and also T Force Videos.) With a force of 650 men he succeeded in this task but only by disobeying his Corps Commander’s orders for which he was placed under arrest on VE day.
    Thus, in Tony words, “my military career ended in pleasing symmetry as I had also been placed under arrest by my Battery Commander on the day war was declared. I am pleased to say that after both arrests I was absolved from blame and each time was awarded a Mention in Despatches by my arrestor!”

    In 1947 Tony was discharged from the Army on Medical Grounds with a Tax Free Disability Pension and went into business.
    Post War

    After a short and successful career in business, Tony retired in 1967 and created a new Dinghy International Development Class and founded the Salterns Sailing Club for children in Lymington which still flourishes today.

    In 1981 Tony and his wife Eira bought Trebah a house nestling on the edge of the Helford estuary in Cornwall. Although Tony and Eira knew nothing about gardening they were persuaded to give up their retirement to restore the 26 acre grounds; it took them five years to clear away the fallen trees, rubbish and accumulated neglect. The family then set up the Trebah Garden Trust, a registered charity, and donated the garden, house and Trebah Lodge to the Trust. Trebah is now one of the major visitor attractions in Cornwall, attracting over 100,000 visitors every year, which through the foresight and hard work of the Hibbert family has been secured for future generations to enjoy.

    Tony Hibbert was awarded the MBE for his contributions to Tourism and Sailing in 2006.

    A recognised authority on Arnhem he formed part of a team of veterans who gave talks to the students of the Army Staff College on their battlefield tours at Arnhem up until 1996. Along with Major John Waddy, he continued this role when the tours were restarted by the Army Division of the Defence Academy in 2008.


    RIP Tony Hibbert. :poppy:
  2. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    :poppy: Major Tony Hibbert MBE MC, RIP :poppy:

  3. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria.

    RIP Tony Hibbert :poppy:
  4. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    RIP Major Tony Hibbert. :poppy:
  5. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    RIP Major Tony Hibbert. :poppy:

    By all accounts a very capable and extraordinary man.
  6. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    rest in peace major tony hibbert.regards bernar85 :poppy: :poppy:
  7. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    He will be sorrily missed. RIP Major Tony Hibbert :poppy:
  8. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    :poppy: Major Tony Hibbert MBE MC, RIP :poppy:
  9. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    :poppy: Major Tony Hibbert MBE MC, RIP :poppy:

  10. reddevon

    reddevon Member

    I had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman some years ago when i helped put on a display of Airborne kit at his Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, His passing is a great loss to the Airborne community.
  11. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member

  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    He was the OC (Lieutenant) of A Section within the Battery HQ, 15 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery when the balloon went up on the 10th May. His section was at Sin-le-Noble. He left France on the 31st May 1940.
    Jonathan Ball likes this.
  14. STAN50

    STAN50 Senior Member

    Tony Hibbert was indeed an interesting an unique man. I was very lucky to have met him once in July 2010.

    I was kindly asked by Lofty1 on here whether I'd like to go with him to the Colchester Garrison Family Day. Here we met up with his friends Jack Bruce and Jacks' cousin Rodney from London, and together we had a very memorable day. It was incredibly hot that day and I was glad I'd brought plenty of cold drinks with me.

    Amongst other things that happened that day the Dakota that had been re assembled at the barracks was unveiled by some of the men who were involved with the Merville Raid in the Normandy Landings. Sitting here watching the proceedings we met up with Jonhny Peters and we also started talking to Tony Hibbert.

    He'd got himself on a train from Devon, booked himself into a local hotel then got a taxi to the Merville Barracks all on his own. A few days later he told us that he was taking a flight to somewhere (I can't remember where but somewhere in Europe) again, all on his own.

    Considering he as quite elderly then we thought he had some 'can do' attitude.

    The day wore on and it transpired that Major Hibbert had not made any plans for the rest of the evening other than to return back to his hotel. As Lofty's wife had prepared a buffet for us we asked him if he'd like to join us. 'Yes, that would be most acceptable' or something like that was his reply.

    To shorten things a little, back at Loftys' house over a very pleasant few hours Jack Bruce recounted what happened to him in Holland (shot down and crashed landed at Wageningen then taken prisoner), and Tony Hibbert told his story. This even included when he escaped from the German truck and his friends were machine gunned by the irate guard.

    He was a real gentleman to listen to and although I didn't realise it then, I'd been extremely lucky to have met this slightly stooped old guy who quietly told us about his war and what he had achieved with is gardens in Devon.

    Jack Bruce sadly passed away recently as did Johnny Peters.

    Below are a few pictures I took that day.
    brithm likes this.
  15. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Major Tony Hibbert - obituary

    Major Tony Hibbert was an officer who saved Kiel from the Soviets and a great Cornish garden from the ravages of time

    Major Tony Hibbert Photo: Photograph of Major Tony Hibbert from the book "From Delhi To Arnhem" by John O'Reilly

    7:21PM BST 19 Oct 2014
    [​IMG]2 Comments

    Major Tony Hibbert, who has died aged 96, called himself the “Maverick Major” — and with good reason. He played a spirited role in the botched operation to capture the Arnhem bridge over the Rhine and later led the mission to seize the German port of Kiel ahead of the Russians, effectively barring them from marching into Denmark.

    As brigade major of 1st Parachute Brigade, he landed outside the Dutch town of Arnhem in September 1944 without challenge, but noticed both a lack of dispatch and the periodic disappearance of the operation’s senior officers by the time he joined Lt-Col John Frost’s 2nd Battalion on the north end of the bridge. On establishing his headquarters in the attic of an office block, he was unable to make wireless contact with a promised relief force. He felt that a vital opportunity was lost when he pointed out that a road to the bridge was still open and was informed that the 3rd Battalion had been halted for the night.

    As the situation deteriorated, Hibbert was kept busy by the faulty communications while sniping and keeping an hourly diary. Finally he saw a large enemy gun arrive, and extracted his party just before it blew the entire building to pieces. After three days pummelling, 100 able-bodied and walking wounded were left with about five rounds of ammunition each. There was no water to extinguish fires, and little food or medicine.

    Taking over command when Frost was wounded, Hibbert agreed to a truce for the evacuation of the wounded, then organised a withdrawal in small sections to link up with the still expected XXX Corps. But the sound of his men crunching through the glass-strewn streets alerted the Germans, and he was caught hiding in a coal shed. After being marched to a church hall, he tried to escape up a chimney and then by pulling up floorboards before being put on to a lorry taking captives to Germany.

    An SS guard became so infuriated by the way the prisoners made V-signs to any Dutch they passed that he halted it several times, threatening to kill them.

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    On the third stop, Hibbert slipped over the side and zigzagged through some gardens to hide under a pile of logs. The guard panicked and shot dead six others in the back of the lorry; for Hibbert it was a burden he would carry to his grave.
    He was followed by a member of the Dutch Resistance, who whistled It’s A Long Way to Tipperary whenever Germans were nearby, but was so dishevelled that a farmer refused him shelter, unsure whether he was German or British; the next morning he proved his bona fides to another farmer by drawing a Union Flag alongside a German flag with a line through the swastika.
    Some 200 survivors of the battle were sheltered in and around the town. Disguised as a Dutchman in flashy green plus-fours and white socks, Hibbert formed a brigade headquarters above a butcher’s shop where, with two senior officers, he arranged for weapons and new uniforms to be dropped while they planned a mass escape.
    After five weeks the evaders and escapers were driven in Dutch lorries to the river, on one occasion politely standing aside to let another German patrol on bicycles pass by, ringing their bells.
    But after the successful crossing, aided by Easy Company of the American 101st Airborne, Hibbert was sitting on the bonnet of an overcrowded Jeep when it hit another vehicle in the dark. He was sent somersaulting on to the road and broke a leg.
    Major Tony Hibbert during the war
    Five months later he was discharged from hospital, still in plaster, to take command of a unit of the 650-strong T-Force (Target Force), charged with preventing the Russians from taking Kiel — and Denmark, in defiance of the Yalta agreement. However, the instructions from T-Force headquarters directly contradicted his orders from British HQ and required him to cross the “ceasefire line” drawn up at the surrender of German forces at Lüneburg Heath.
    Arriving at Kiel four hours ahead of the Russians, Hibbert hobbled up the steps of the German naval headquarters, saluted the German naval commander captain, who was armed with a submachine gun, and invited him to surrender on what he (dubiously) claimed were the direct orders of General Eisenhower.
    In the wake of the surrender, Hibbert was promptly arrested for disobeying orders — but left in custody with a bottle of champagne. On the last day of the war his corps commander arrived, and criticised him for behaving like a “bloody commando” instead of a responsible staff officer. He then released Hibbert, saying he would have done the same thing, and recommended him for despatches.
    James Anthony Hibbert was born on December 6 1917, the son of a Royal Flying Corps pilot with a Military Cross and two Bars as well as a DFC. He left Marlborough at 16 and went to Germany to work in a vineyard in preparation for joining the family wine business. He lodged with a gauleiter and his two Nazi sons, and on his return joined the Royal Artillery.
    At the outbreak of war Hibbert was under arrest for crashing a car carrying rum rations — he later enjoyed the symmetry of being under arrest on both the day his war started and the day it ended — but was posted with the Expeditionary Force to France. There he commanded a half-battery defending the northern perimeter of Dunkirk for four days before destroying his guns when the ammunition ran out; he was mentioned in despatches. Back in England, Hibbert volunteered for No 2 (Parachute) Commando, with which he did a night jump from a balloon in full mess dress and spurs, only to be reprimanded for appearing late for dinner in torn trousers.
    After becoming a staff officer in North Africa he was involved in 16 aborted operations before Market Garden, the Rhine operation which took place after only a week’s planning.
    Hibbert left the Army in 1948 with a Military Cross awarded for his service at Arnhem.
    Over the next two decades he worked his way up to managing director of a family firm supplying provisions to liners at Southampton; during this period he helped to invent the International Moth class of dinghy and founded the Salterns Sailing Club for children at Lymington, Hampshire.
    In 1949 he married Eira Bradshaw; they had a son and three daughters, with whom they brought up his brother’s son and daughter; he also had another daughter from an earlier marriage.
    Trebah Gardens which Major Hibbert and his wife restored
    In their later years the Hibberts bought Trebah, a dilapidated house overlooking the Helford estuary in Cornwall. On touring their grounds they discovered 20-metre high rhododendrons, huge Australian tree ferns and hundreds of rare trees. The couple set about clearing 26 acres to reveal and revive a once celebrated Victorian subtropical garden.
    They planned to spend the first three years of their retirement on the project — it was to take up the following quarter of a century. The gardens opened to the public in 1987 and now ranks alongside the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project as one of Cornwall’s biggest horticultural attractions.
    “If it were not for this garden I would have died of gin and boredom years ago,” he said in 2011. “It is a real Cornish garden. The hand of man is invisible. A great garden, one with heart, takes its cues from nature itself.” Eventually Hibbert created the Trebah Garden Trust to secure its future.
    Major Tony Hibbert receiving the Great Seal of Kiel in 2010
    In 2006 he was appointed MBE for his contributions to tourism and sailing.
    In later life he managed a website dedicated to the Dutch Arnhem Fellowship and regularly returned to Arnhem, where he stayed with two Dutch ladies, called Nink and Dink, whose father had brought him a bicycle while he was in hiding. He also returned to Kiel, where in 2010 he was bestowed with the city’s Great Seal in honour of his bravery during the closing days of the war.
    His wife died in 2009 and he is survived by his son and four daughters.

    Major Tony Hibbert, born December 6 1917, died October 12 2014

  16. STAN50

    STAN50 Senior Member

    While I think of it, can anyone tell me the names of the pictured veterans who jointly unveiled the Dakota memorial on that day:
  17. Lofty1

    Lofty1 Senior Member

    Colchester Garrison Family Day 23.7.2010 Official Unveiling of the Dakota Memorial. - Copy.jpg The chap in the doorway is Jim Kilbride, who has done sterling work on the restoration of this Dakota, the other four i believe all took part in the raid on Merville. sadly I cannot help with their names
  18. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    The bloke on the left of the picture is Sgt. Len Daniels.
  19. STAN50

    STAN50 Senior Member

    Many thanks Jonathan & Lofty.
  20. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    :poppy: Major Tony Hibbert. MBE, MC. RIP :poppy:


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