Susan Hibbert dies
5 Feb 2009
Susan Hibbert with her medals at Kimpton School
Susan Hibbert with her medals at Kimpton School
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Sir George with Susan Hibbert
Sir George with Susan Hibbert
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Susan Hibbert, who died earlier this week in Salisbury Hospital, played a key part in this country's history. Susan, who lived in Abbotts Ann before her recent fall, was one of the first people to know that World War II in Europe was over.

"Susan was a very active member of the community in Abbotts Ann; at the village fete, she was always in charge of the whisky stall, which was a huge revenue earner."

"Before she married Basil, who was later Chairman of the Parish Council, she worked in the House of Commons. I enjoyed gossiping with her about the MP's she worked for, some of whom were still in the House when I was first elected in 1974. When she came back, she was amazed by how much conditions had improved since the 1960's"

"She was generous with her time - and her home - working hard for the Conservative Party and hosting an annual barbecue. She was a warm and kind person, who leaves behind many friends in the village."

Susan Hibbert was 83 and was taken to Salisbury Hospital in January after a fall in her home in Abbotts Ann

The piece below about her role in the Second World war is taken from a BBC website.

In May 1945, she was a British sergeant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) based at General Dwight D Eisenhower's temporary HQ - a small redbrick schoolhouse in north-eastern France.

Early in the morning on 7 May, in a windowless room in the corner of the building, Susan witnessed history being made: the full capitulation of all Nazi forces.

As a secretary for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), she had played an essential role - typing and retyping the final surrender document for 20 hours.

"In the days leading up to the surrender, we knew something was happening - there was a real feeling of excitement in the air," Susan told BBC News.

With Hitler's death at the end of April, leadership of Germany had devolved to Grand Adm Karl Doenitz. On 6 May, Gen Alfred Jodl, chief of staff at the Wehrmacht, arrived to represent him in Reims.

Susan began typing the Act of Military Surrender on 6 May and finished some 20 hours later in the early hours of 7 May.

"Staff officers and interpreters were coming and going. We were not allowed to leave the room. There were constant changes and amendments. I often had to start again from the beginning. The British version of the surrender was quite basic, although a lot of people had worked on it."

The documents were finally taken to the "war room", which was covered floor to ceiling in maps. Susan and a group of her colleagues had been waiting for a long time outside the room, before being invited in to watch history being made.
"We were very, very tired. We had been waiting for ages. We came into the room, there were a lot of journalists and photographers. The actual signing was carried out quietly and solemnly. There was no celebrating," says Susan.
An interpreter read out the surrender terms - probably more for the benefit of the journalists. Susan Hibbert said
"We were so pleased it was happening - it was wonderful to be part of it. But, we were so exhausted, all I and the other secretaries wanted to do was go to bed. But I was asked to do one more job. I had to type the signal informing the War Office in London that the war in Europe was over."

The most momentous wartime message simply read: "The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945."
While millions celebrated, Susan Hibbert slept. "When the surrender was over, we just disappeared. I went to bed and didn't get up for two days. I was so exhausted," she recalls.

Sixty years later, she was honoured at a reception hosted by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in Reims.

She was one of only two people still alive who witnessed the final surrender.

The "war room" at Reims has been preserved as part of a Surrender Museum in the renamed Lycee Roosevelt high school.


I am also grateful to David Greenway for his notes of a talk Susan gave to Rotary - below

SUSAN HIBBERT'S WAR


On the 25th of July, those Rotarians who attended the evening meeting at the White Hart were given a real treat. John Barlow introduced us to his neighbour, Susan Hibbert, who spoke to us for some 30 minutes without a script. It was enthralling. Fortunately for those of you who didn't come, your Editor made a note of what Susan had to say. You are thus lucky to be able to read what Susan said – and Susan now has a script!

I went to the Godolphin School in Salisbury and, when we were revising for the School Certificate, we used to lie out on the grass and watch the Battle of Britain being fought in the sky above us. We saw lots of aircraft including those which flew from Middle Wallop.

I decided that I didn't want to go to university and I opted instead to go to Secretarial College where we did the 2-year course in about 9 months. For some reason I was sent for a job interview for the Foreign Office in London. I could speak French quite well but had no other particularly outstanding attributes. I had to report to the Passport Office and was then escorted up many flights of stairs by the porter, right up into the roof. We went along over many buildings until I think we were about over the Foreign Office. I was then interviewed in French by a Major. Eventually he asked me how old I was and I told him I was 17. "Oh, my dear," he said. "You are too young! Please go away and don't tell anyone about this." I was being interviewed as a possible Resistance worker and I was rather glad I didn't get involved in that.

I joined the ATS and we lived in very cold Nissen huts at Aldermaston. The worst part of it was night duty when we had to go round the messes and so on, first of all raking out all the fires and making sure that they were out, and then laying them ready for the next day. We also had to do all the washing up. We then moved to the North Canonry in the Close in Salisbury which is by the river. We had a room in the basement so it was very damp. Eventually we were moved to the Theological College and worked at Wilton House which was Southern Command Headquarters. The best part of all that was the wonderful lettuce sandwiches which Lady Pembroke made for us! They were absolutely delicious.

We were involved in preparing sites for the Americans before they went to France. All our work was extremely classified and all our documents were stamped with the code name BIGOT. Naturally, in order to ensure that you were talking to someone who had the right clearances, you were asked if you were bigoted! Eventually we moved to the workhouse in Wilton which was actually very comfortable and better than most of the places we had lived in.

Of course we were aware of the build-up to landings in France, but we had no idea when it might be. Then, one day we heard a funny noise outside, so we rushed out and saw the sky full of aircraft and gliders on their way to Normandy on D-Day.

I was sent to London to work at Eisenhower's Headquarters which were then at Bushey Park. We lived in huts which were right across the other side of the camp from the Headquarters so we had a long walk to work. This was at the time of the Buzz Bombs and it was by far the most frightening time I had. We were all very worried being exposed for so long. But the best part was that I was now working in an American Headquarters so we had good food for the first time for ages! I then went down to Portsmouth to work at Eisenhower's new Headquarters at Southwick House which is high on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Glen Miller was there then and we spent the summer evenings listening to his band before he was sadly killed. One good thing about being in Portsmouth was that I could quite easily hitch a lift home to Guildford. In those days, of course, young girls were quite safe doing that sort of thing which, alas, is not the case today.

And then the time came to go over to France. We flew from Hayling Island in a Dakota which had no seats as such. On the way over we apparently saw a Messerschmitt and were told to lie down on the floor of the aircraft – though what good that would have done if we'd been attacked I haven't a clue! But luckily we weren't and we arrived safely in Normandy where we were put up on the coast – but the beach was mined. And now we had French food which was even better!

I worked in the Operations and Plans Branch and we were responsible for producing the daily SITREPS (Situation Reports) to keep everyone in touch with what was happening. We then moved on to Paris where we lived in a barracks which we shared with some French Senegalese who were singularly unimpressed with being involved in the war. In fact they rioted and set fire to their mattresses which made a lot of smoke but didn't really damage the stone building! We moved on to Versailles, to where Eisenhower had moved his Headquarters, and lived in the stables. I worked for a brigadier who was the Chief Planning Officer. He called me in one day to take some dictation and startled me by saying that he was going to outline the "Plan for the Retreat to England"! Fortunately he explained that plans had to be written for every eventuality – just in case…

We moved on to Rheims where we lived in a school house. It was by then becoming obvious that we were close to the end and, on the 6th May, I was on duty and was called to a room where there was a lot of coming and going. I was then told to type the German Surrender Document. I did the English and German versions and there were French and Russian ones as well. The main document was actually very short but there were lots of attachments. Of course, in those days we didn't have computers but had to bash out our typing on those old Imperial typewriters. Naturally, if we made a mistake, the whole document had to be started again. There was a great performance setting out the tables measuring exactly where the papers should be. We were invited in and allowed to stand in the corner and watch while all the documents were signed. I then typed out the signal to say that the war was at an end and we drank champagne out of mess tins! I had been on duty for 20 hours non-stop so I slept like a log afterwards.

We moved on to Frankfurt to work at the Control Commission where I worked in Public Relations Information Services Control which gave licences to newspapers and information services. You could only broadcast with a licence and everything had to be de-Nazified. I shared a desk with a chap called Robert Maxwell who was horrible! He was responsible for giving licences for publishing and he worked on the principle that "you may publish your book, but with my firm in England". I'm glad he got his eventual comeuppance.

We then went to Berlin through the Russian Zone. There were very few soldiers around before we actually got to Berlin which was in a dreadful state. We worked in part of the University and we were welcomed by the Berliners who regarded us as having saved them from the Russians. In fact one Russian had been shot and was buried outside our door. There were terrible stories of what they had done. For example, they got all the people out of an area, made the women and children stand beside the road and made all the men lie down in the road. They then drove tanks over the men while their families watched.

It was in Berlin that I met Basil (who worked for the Head of the Economic Division) and we got married. My parents wanted me to get married in England, but all our friends were in Berlin so we got married there. The Americans gave us food, so we bartered some of it for flowers for the wedding. A friend had given us a Volkswagen (which you could get for £160 in those days) and so we had the problem of getting it home. The Berlin Air Lift had started by then so we were lucky to get an aircraft to take the car to Hamburg for us. We got it into the aircraft after a lot of pushing and shoving, but it took about 4 hours to get it out again at the other end. We lived in Bonn for a bit before we came back to England.




 
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