Words during memorial service for Tony Hibbert
Aldershot, 28 February 2015
by Arno Baltussen
Dear Carolyn, all other members of the Hibbert family, fellow veterans, friends and relatives
The memories and words of thanks to Tony, come from me as Chairman of the Foundation Driel Poland and as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in the Netherlands. In this last role I speak on behalf of the Polish Embassy as well as all Tony’s Polish friends , in Poland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
It was in April 2006, that I had the honor of meeting Tony personally for the first time. Initially our contact was via email. What struck me was his energetic response and the way he dealt concretely with every major point and he was already nearly 89 years old.
Our initial contact followed his initiative to establish the “Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski Memorial Appeal”. A monument in Driel to honor General Sosabowski and his brigade.
I met Tony for the first time after the ceremony during which the Dutch Queen Beatrix awarded the Military Order of William to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade and posthumously the Bronze Lion to General Sosabowski on the 31st of May 2006 in The Hague.
I was amazed at the amount of energy he possessed and the enthusiasm with which he spoke about the “Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski Memorial Appeal”.
He described the size of the monument that he had in mind. The measurements made me, given the size of the Polenplein in the core of Driel, a little bit scared. I wondered how I could explain this to him without inhibiting his enthusiasm .
At a meeting on the 2nd of June 2006 with an architect on the square that I have just described, Tony outlined the plan.
The architect looked around and tried gently to convince Tony his idea was not feasible. After some consultation the idea for the monument that was unveiled on September 16 2006, by Hal Sosabowski, a great-grandson of General Sosabowski, was born.
The flexibility and the enthusiasm with which Tony discussed all this was admirable and inspiring.
This, however, was not the entire plan for the unveiling.
As you all probably know Sir Brian Urquhart, was the chairman of the committee that was established to enable the realization of the monument.
Tony told me about his idea to invite Queen Beatrix for the unveiling. A surprising proposal, but something you can quickly get excited about and then disappointed when it doesn’t work out. Sir Brian Urquhart knew our Queen and suggested inviting her for a cup of tea in Driel and then she would attend the commemoration and unveiling. Unfortunately, this proved to be a bridge too far. Her military adjutant would be the one to represent her at the commemoration and unveiling.
Tony’s next suggestion was to hold a dinner on the Friday night “the Sosabowski dinner”. Along with Hiltje van Eck, he worked on a list of invitees and set about making preparations. Obviously completely perfect. But unfortunately there was not the budget to make his proposal, to make this annual gathering, possible.
It was then that Tony said to me “it seems to me like I am working for a tourist office.”
He completed the monument in 2007 with a bronze plaque with a text that very clearly shows the feelings and respect the British veterans have for the Polish Brigade and General Stanisław Sosabowski.
In 2012 for his dedication to the cause of ensuring the rehabilitation of General Sosabowski and his brigade by the British government, the Polish Embassy in the United Kingdom offered a decoration. You all know that Tony would only accept something if he felt that his goal had been achieved. Tony declined this honor stating that he could accept it only when the rehabilitation of General Sosabowski and his brigade by the British government became a reality.
I sincerely hope that the Polish government will be able to make this decoration posthumously.
In 2010 my wife and I visited Tony at his home at Trebah Garden. What a fantastic job he did there after his retirement. He was rightly proud of this fantastic garden.
I am proud to have known Tony. I will never forget his energy, commitment, enthusiasm, inspiration, engagement and friendship.
In relation to the Sosabowski Memorial Appeal Tony wrote:
“The one great lasting legacy of the Battle of Arnhem is that it created a unique bond of love and respect between the peoples of three great nations — the Dutch, the Poles and the British— this bond has survived and grown ever stronger over more than 60 years. Let us now ensure that it will continue to grow ever stronger.”
I would like to continue to contribute to Tony’s wish. If we have just a portion of his energy and determination I’m sure it should be possible.
We will remember him!