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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
'I remember the German surrender'
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Susan Hibbert
Susan Hibbert spent a tiring 20 hours typing the surrender papers
Susan Hibbert was one of the first people to know that World War II in Europe was over.

Long before the countries that had been locked in the struggle against Nazi Germany rang with cheers of victory, Susan, a young sergeant based in the French town of Reims, quietly celebrated with Veuve Clicquot champagne served in a tin cup.

In May 1945, Susan 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.

In Eisenhower's "war room", Jodl signs the Act of Military Surrender
"For five days we were typing documents. We started early in the morning and finished late at night. I typed the English documents, three other secretaries typed the French, Russian and German versions." Drafts were sent to Washington, London and Moscow.

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 - who now lives in Abbots Ann, Hampshire - 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.

The table

In the centre of the room stood a large, black wooden table. It was described by one reporter present as the "most important table on earth".

Pencils, papers and ashtrays had been placed on the table with military precision, their positions having been measured with a ruler by an American captain.

Susan and other secretaries waited outside before being invited in
At about 0230 on 7 May, 10 Allied officers came in and took their places at the table. The Germans were called in. Gen Eisenhower remained in another room for reasons of protocol.

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.

Gen Jodl then rose stiffly and turned to General Eisenhower's chief of staff Lt Gen Walter Bedell Smith. He said in English: "I want to say a word". Then, proceeding in German, he declared: "With this signature the German people and the German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor's hands.


"In this war, which has lasted more than five years, they both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity."

There was no answer, no salutes. The Germans got up and left the room.

Those left inside the war room celebrated quietly. "We had some champagne but we didn't have any glasses so we had to drink it out of army mess tins. We passed the tins around and had a few sips," says Susan.

When the surrender was over, we just disappeared - I went to bed and didn't get up for two days
Susan Hibbert
"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."

According to Gen Bedell Smith, in his book Eisenhower's Six Great Decisions, there were attempts to make the historic communication less prosaic. The general and his colleagues "groped for resounding phrases as fitting accolades to the Great Crusade and indicative of our dedication to the great task just completed." But Gen Eisenhower apparently rejected a stack of draft messages proposed by his staff and opted for the more simple message.

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 on, she is to be honoured at a reception hosted by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in Reims.

She is believed to be 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.

The war ended at 2301 Central European Time on 8 May. For Europe, it marked a new beginning.

For Susan, it remains a vivid memory.

"I feel very privileged to be part of history," she says.


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