Major James Anthony Hibbert MBE MC
Major James Anthony Hibbert MBE MC (Tony) passed away peacefully at home with his family on Sunday 12th October 2014 aged 96.
Born in 1917, Tony left school at 16 to become an apprentice in the family Wine and Spirits merchants. As part of his training, he was based in Germany during the early 1930s where he became alarmed by the militarisation he saw around him. Abandoning his apprenticeship, much to the anger of his father, Tony returned to England in 1935 and applied to the Royal Military Academy (RMA). In January 1938, he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and six days after the start of World War Two (9th September) Tony landed at Cherbourg with the British Expeditionary Force.
Nine months later, having defended the Northern Perimeter of Dunkirk during the last four days of the evacuation until the ammunition ran out and he had to destroy his guns, Tony led his troops to the boats for the return home.
Back on British soil, Tony was keen to volunteer to get back to the Front, and joined No 2 (Parachute) Commando, the foundation of the Parachute Regiment. He served in North Africa and Italy as a Staff Officer, and was later posted to the 1st British Airborne Division as Brigade Major of 1 Parachute Brigade in June 1944. Shortly after, he was involved in the preparations for Operation Market Garden with instructions to hold the bridge at Arnhem for 48 hours. The operation was beset by problems from the start, but the Brigade held the bridge against fierce German opposition for 72 hours before being captured and loaded into lorries to be taken to the German Prisoner of War camps.
During a stop at Brummen, near Arnhem, Tony and another office jumped off. Although Tony escaped, his comrade was recaptured and six other prisoners were shot in retaliation. This was a memory that haunted Tony throughout his life.
Tony was hidden by brave Dutch civilians and worked with the underground to collect Airborne invaders, gathering them at Ede for the great Pegasus 1 and 2 escapes. Unfortunately, during the escape Tony was injured whilst sitting on the bonnet of a jeep which crashed into another vehicle breaking his leg and he was subsequently hospitalised for several months.
6 months later, in April 1945, Tony was discharged from hospital, still on crutches, and posted to 'T' force at Bremen with orders to 'take the town of Kiel and stop the Russians from reaching Denmark'. At this time, the Russians were still our allies and there were 50,000 Germans in Kiel.
Tony had to use his guile to persuade the Duty Officer at Hamburg to allow his unit to progress, as orders were not to allow anyone to cross the front line. Tony arrived at Kiel seriously undermanned to face the Russians, so drove directly to the German Naval Headquarters where he managed to persuade the Senior Naval Officer to let him speak to Admiral Doenitz who agreed to an immediate cease fire of German Naval and Armed Forces in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark.
Tony ended his war under arrest for deliberately disobeying orders of the Corps Commander. This made a fitting end to a war which he had begun in the same way for crashing a superior officer's car!
Tony was invalided out of the army in 1947 having been mentioned in Dispatches in 1940 and 1946 and receiving the Military Cross in 1945. 65 years later, he was presented with the Great Seal of the City of Kiel and also received a Commendation from the British Chief of General Staff for his services at Kiel. Until his death he was an active member of the Cornwall Branch of the Parachute Regiment, and served as its President.
Back in civilian life, Tony resumed his career in the wine and spirit industry and went on to take over the family firm of CG Hibberts which had suffered greatly and was on the verge of collapse. Using all his acumen and drive, Tony took advantage of the opportunities in post-war Britain to turn the business around and diversify into a wide range of fields including a chain of Off Licenses, canning of soft drinks and even introducing the ring pull can to the UK market. He was awarded the Queens Award for Industry.
During this time, Tony used his considerable energy to create a children's sailing club on a salt pan lake at his family home in Lymington, Hampshire. The Salterns Sailing Club, was run for children by children and introduced youngsters from 4 to 14 to dingy sailing - it is still thriving today. Tony, a keen sailor himself, travelled the world to compete in the International Moth Class, of which for many years he was the Honorary Secretary.
In the early 1970s, Tony felt the time was right to sell CG Hibberts and retire to Branscombe in Devon. Before long, however, he became restless with life as a Gentleman Farmer and lent his support to the fundraising campaign to build a new village hall. His efforts soon paid dividends and building work started. This left Tony as a loose end, so picking up on the perceived threats of the Cold War, he started campaigning for local emergency volunteer forces trained to deal with natural disasters and threats of invasion. This was somewhat controversial at the time and led to accusations that he was creating a private army. Despite this, Devon County Council did set up plans for local groups trained to supply emergency food and water in the event of disasters.
In 1981, Tony decided to retire again and headed off to the Helford River in Cornwall to drink gin on the terrace. Soon after arriving, he discovered he had bought one of the original gardens created by the Fox family, and once again his energy and enthusiasm was fired up. Before too long, he and his family were hard at work clearing and replanting the magnificent valley garden of Trebah. After 6 years hard work, Tony decided to share this gem with the public and in 1987 opened it to the public. Within 3 years, visitor numbers reached 50,000 and in order to protect the garden for posterity, Tony donated the property to Trebah Garden Trust which today goes from strength to strength and has won many major awards.
In 2006 Tony was presented with the MBE for his contribution to tourism and sailing.
Tony was happily married for almost 60 years to Eira until her death in 2009, she was a huge support to him throughout the many phases of his life. Tony and Eira had 4 children and also brought up their niece and nephew. The couple also enjoyed their eleven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Tony has an older daughter from his first marriage.
He was a very energetic and charismatic man, who made a lasting impression on all who met him.