Photo: Dawn Hyde (nee Vincent) and Carol (nee Vincent)
Three years ago, I was under contract by The History Press to write a book entitled: Christmas Past in Essex. ISBN: 978 07524 4463 5. I’m glad to report the book is doing extremely well albeit a small window of opportunity for sales. It is however, considered an "Evergreen Book," which obviously means it returns each year.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of having afternoon tea with Dawn Hyde and younger sister Carol, both of whom are Essex girls (and very proud of it I might add). They are both mentioned in Christmas Past in Essex (Page 76). Dawn remembers the special Christmases they had in Essex, even during the war years.
Following is an excerpt:
"The War Years
Christmas during the war years was particularly harsh for many families throughout England but particularly in Essex which seemed to take the brunt of the German attacks. Dawn Hyde (nee Vincent) recalls that an uncle lost his life on the Thames which was a frequent target for the German air force. Dawn’s own father worked as a tug captain on the Thames and he and his family knew his life was often in peril. Happily he survived, even though while living with his father in London, with his wife and twin daughters, the house sustained a direct hit. They all survived, but moved to Hullbridge soon after and loved living in Essex.
“I know it must have been very difficult for my parents during the war – but I must admit that I never fully appreciated the danger we were in and how hard it must have been for mum and dad. When the sirens went off, we all used to run down to the shelter at the school which was only a matter of yards from our house. We used to cover our heads for protection and carry our gas masks as we ran. I remember that my gas mask had a picture of Mickey Mouse on the outside. Anyhow, we’d all run to the shelter with our dog running alongside us. Then we’d have to wait in the shelter until we heard the ‘all clear’ siren and then we’d come out and go about our normal day.
We moved to Hullbridge in about 1940, just after the war started. It was a lovely place to live, close to the water – everything was fresh and clean. There was only a three room school with outside toilets across the playground that used to freeze up during really cold weather. My teacher, Miss Anderson (she may have been married, I don’t recall) used to make a real effort every Christmas by decorating the class with wonderful pictures of Jesus, the nativity and other symbolic Christmas scenes. The whole feeling was one of happiness and security despite the bombings. Mostly, we were safe living in Hullbridge because London took the brunt of the bombings.
Since I am a twin, we girls always used to dress alike and mum used to have a seamstress in Hullbridge who would make identical clothes for us. It was a good time at Christmas because we always got a new outfit, some toys and lots and lots of sweets. This was because my uncle had a sweet shop in London close to Custom House, so he would bring bags and bags of sweets to us at Christmastime.
As I said, I have a twin sister who was born ten hours later in the day. In fact, that’s how we got our names. Since I was born in the early morning, the named me Dawn. My sister, Eve was born in the evening – hence the name of Eve. We loved Christmas! We played games (no television in those days) and so jigsaws, snakes and ladders and other board games all were played over the holidays. As we were twin sisters, we slept in the same bed and one Christmas Eve, we were sure that ‘Santa’ had just come in to our bedroom and touched our feet. We screamed with excitement! Such happy times!
In 1945, our younger sister Carol Ann was born, so there were now three girls in the family. We often played with those cut-out dolls and dressed them in all sorts of fashions and designs. We always seemed to have a Christmas tree but I remember one year when we had a very small tree that had to be dug out of the garden. Even though it was small, we still decorated it with real candles, little white candles that we lit on Christmas Eve."