A HERO of the World War Two who fought at Dunkirk, parachuted into Arnhem and persuaded a German admiral to surrender the Nazi fleet has died peacefully, aged 96.

Major James Anthony Hibbert MBE MC was a towering figure who in later life bought a house at Trebah and turned the gardens into one of the most successful tourist attractions in the county.

He died on Sunday afternoon sitting in his favourite chair at the White House in Trebah looking down the valley surrounded by his family. He leaves behind two sons Chris Hibbert and Harry Bradshaw and daughters Gill Pipkin, Carolyn Brodie, Viv Stals, Sarah Stephens and Di Phillips. He had been suffering from dementia for a number of years but the family said he died with a big smile on his face.

Speaking about her dad, Gill Pipkin said her father could be incredibly frustrating but his death had left a huge void in their lives.

“He was a very charismatic person,” she said. “He could be incredibly frustrating and could be very controversial. Things always happened around him. He just had this way of taking people along and getting people to do things.”

Paying tribute to Major Hibbert, the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and president of the Royal British Legion, Cornwall Colonel E T Bolitho OBE, said his presence would be hugely missed.

“Tony Hibbert was a huge character, who achieved great things after coming to Cornwall some thirty years ago,” he said. “His lasting legacy will be the outstanding gardens at Trebah, which he renovated with enormous enthusiasm, determination and energy before opening to the public and then handing over to the Trebah Gardens Trust in 1990.

“In earlier life, he was a brave and successful soldier in the Second World War, fighting at Arnhem and winning a Military Cross. As a result, each year at Trebah he held an Airborne Forces day, bringing together large numbers of people to celebrate and commemorate all that they had achieved. He was a great friend of the Royal British Legion and someone who will be long-remembered and much missed in Cornwall.”

Tony Hibbert was born in 1917 and left school at 16 to become an apprentice with the family's wine and spirits business. A trip to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s changed all that and, alarmed by the militarisation taking place there, he joined the Army as an officer just in time for the start of World War Two.

He fought at Dunkirk in the Royal Artillery and later on played a key role at Arnhem as part of the parachute regiment which tried to capture the town bridge in 1944. The battle was immortalised in the film A Bridge Too Far, in which Major Hibbert's character played opposite the actor Anthony Hopkins.

He was captured but managed to escape, before returning to the war and given the task of taking Kiel and stopping the Russians reaching Denmark. Going against orders he went across enemy lines with his unit and managed to persuade Admiral Doenitz to agree to an immediate cease fire.

After the war he returned to the family business which was in dire straits, managing to turn it around and even introducing the ring pull can to the UK. After retirement he bought Trebah and restored the Fox family gardens to their former glory before opening them to the public.