Our next move was from Victoria Dock Liverpool to a dry dock in the Grayson, Rollo, Dockyard just across the River Mersey in Birkenhead for a complete refit. After clearing lower decks to address the ships company, our Captain, Lieut. Commander Cartwright R.N. told us that the four destroyers that brought the convoy home had been sold to the Canadian Navy. This meant that the ship would be decommissioned (paid off) and a Canadian Captain and his crew would take over after the refit. Meanwhile only three of us would stay on the ship during the refit of guns, asdics, radar, torpedoes, mines, Ack-Ack and the latest anti-missile equipment.
"Jacko" Signalman, HMS Express
In fact the Express would become a very modern warship. The three to remain on board until the Canadians arrived were myself (I'm glad to say), the Gunner (a Lieutenant) and the 'Jack Dusty' (Petty Officer, Storekeeper).
I was to be the communication link between the Naval base in the Liver Buildings and of course learn all about the new radar equipment being fitted. A great idea; six weeks in Birkenhead, every weekend in Birmingham, and Jack Dusty had a stack of railway warrants.
After a week of duties, twice a day on the Mersey ferry (some sailor!) to fetch the mail, and the rest of the time was my own. I was free to visit the Adelphi Hotel for drinks and sandwiches, the Empire Variety Theatre, the cinemas, and best of all, the Liverpool and Everton football grounds, what a life!
There was one snag though which I had to overcome and it concerned my weekend leave. Doris was serving her war effort in the National Fire Service in a very much-bombed part of Birmingham, Aston. So arriving in Birmingham late on Friday afternoon, I went to see the Chief Fire Officer at their headquarters at Gosta Green. This was to see if I could get her watch changed to coincide with my few weekends off, a bit of a cheek really, but he must have been impressed with my uniform and gold badges. He was a great guy and said, "No problem", and promptly by phone put Doris on a training course, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, so that was a difficulty solved.
This grand spell of 'up homers' had to finish, the refit was completed and the Canadians and their 4-ringer Captain came on board and took over. He informed the Gunner and Jack Dusty that they would be returned to Portsmouth. But I was to stay and maintain the new radar as the R.C.N. had no trained mechanics and I would receive 4 shillings (20 pence) a day extra. This was fine by me, but sadly the old ship was to change her name from HMS Express to HMCS Gatineau (a river in Canada).
Then we went to Tobermory in Western Scotland for sea trials. After being with the Canadians for two weeks, I found them very friendly and generous, but their only conversation naturally, was about Quebec, Toronto etc., and all they wanted to do was to play 'Crap', a dice game which I hated. No mention of England, Birmingham, Aston Villa, or Warwickshire C.C. and I felt cut off. Not their fault, but I thought I would rather be with English lads for the next few years, so I asked permission to see the Captain, who was most considerate, and nearly persuaded me to stay on the Gatineau. But granted me a transfer, and in a fortnight I was back in Portsmouth, waiting a draft to another ship. My replacement on the Gatineau was delighted at his luck, and at the Canadian rates of pay.
I was sorry to leave, I always felt safe on board my first ship, I made many friends, learned such a lot about comradeship and most certainly about seamanship.
Some of the nights seemed very long in my hammock in that Signalmen's Mess in the forepeak, 'sharp end' of the ship, each wave hitting those thin riveted plates was a bit scary. The food was good, the experiences were marvellous and to see that part of the world in the Southern Hemisphere was first class for me especially, as a landlubber from Birmingham!
When I left her in Scotland I didn't hear any news of the Gatineau (Express) but after the war I heard she'd been sunk in the Atlantic convoy duty. If this was true, what a sad but fitting end to a very brave and much loved ship.
(Note: In fact, in 1947 Express was used as a breakwater in Oyster Bay, Puget Sound. In 1956 the hulk was broken up at Vancouver: see Appendix 1)