Netherland Line MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, sold to become the TSMS Lakonia

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Author, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer and Maritime Lecturer

Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime/cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or any travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! Although the author has been in the passenger shipping industry since 1960, although is now retired but having completed well over 700 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers Ships features I trust these will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts the information they are seeking, but above all a great deal of pleasure!

“Memories of the JVO

m.s. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

The Harold William Heasman Story

His Wartime Service on the MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt


ms Johan van Oldenbarnevelt seen prior to the war bedecked in flags as she departs for another world voyage

From the author’s private collection

The following story was sent to me by his son Robert Heasman in November 2010, and I am sure you will find it an interesting addition which will add to the memory not only regarding this fine gentleman but also of this great ship! Although 99% is as Robert sent it to me, some of it has been slightly edited and rephrased for continuity sake, but be assured that the essence of the details and story has not been altered whatsoever!

Reuben Goossens.

Mr. Harold William Heasman, was born in Portsmouth in 1915. He became a printer’s compositor by trade, working in Aylesbury when the Second World War broke out.

Harold volunteered for service in the Royal Navy in November 1940 at HMS Collingwood, near Portsmouth and he joined the “Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship” (DEMS) force as a gunner being a small cargo vessel the SS Fidra in December 1941. Sadly on January 24, 1942 the SS Fidra together with two other ships ran aground in a severe storm just off Peterhead. All three ships were lost with their crews rescued by the local Peterhead lifeboat. Harold’s life was saved by the action of a life boatman as the ship was floundering against the rocks.

After a period of survivors leave, Harold joined the crew of a famed Dutch liner, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt at Liverpool. For interest, by then he had become a Petty Officer. On board the JVO there were five Royal Navy crew’s who would man the two guns onboard.

The JVO is seen here during one of her frequent visits to Liverpool in the UK

Harold arrived in Cape Town on the JVO in April 1942, the ship then continued to Bombay and returned to Cape Town and back to Liverpool arriving in July 1942. The ship also docked at Freetown but no shore leave was permitted. During this period, Harold produced two drawings of the JVO, one for himself and one for a member of the Dutch crew for a school in Holland I believe.

A drawing by Harold Heasman of the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt made whilst on board

Provided by his son Robert Heasman This image is and may NOT be copied & used by any media online or private, etc.

Please respect ownership!

Whilst on the JVO, Harold on the ship during the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in November 1942, then arriving again in Cape Town in December.

In August 1943, whilst in dock in Liverpool, Harold’s wife, Sybil, was given permission to come on board the ship and she remembers thinking at the time what a grand ship she must have been in her pre-war splendour. She recalls the chef giving her an enormous freshly baked loaf, which she shared with others at her lodgings in Liverpool.

The JVO set sail from Liverpool in August 1943, however, due to a mechanical failure the ship was forced back to port immediately. Lengthy repairs were needed thus all Royal Navy crew were ordered to return to Portsmouth. This would be the last time that Harold sailed on this grand ship, the JVO.

From then until the end of the war Harold continued sailing on the various larger “DEMS” type of liners converted as troopships crossing the Atlantic from Liverpool to New York or Halifax in Canada. He predominately served on the French liner the Ile De France, but he also made a single voyage on the famed Cunard liner the Queen Mary.

However, Harold was particularly fond of the JVO and was very proud of the time he served on board her. I remember him reading the newspaper around Christmas 1963 regarding the sinking of the Lakonia and exclaiming “that’s my old boat the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt”, he was devastated!

Sadly Harold passed away in 1992, but my mother is still alive and she provided me with most of the above details from his notes as well as those from her own memory.

Robert Heasman.”

Also read Chapter 2: JVO the Trooper

Return to the - JVO Index


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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are either by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images and photographs that have been provided by Shipping Companies or private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors, however, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer or owner concerned. Therefore, I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me; my email address can be only be found at in order that due credit may be given.


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