JOHN TREASURE JONES was a survivor of the Second World War whose ship was torpedoed and sank under him, and who then lived to climb the ladder of success in the post-war merchant navy. He commanded some of the world's greatest ocean liners, including, as her last Master, the greatest of them all, the Queen of Queens, the legendary Queen Mary herself.
Born in 1905, one of eight children of a Welsh farming family, Treasure Jones left school before his 16th birthday to begin an apprenticeship with the JC Gould Steamship Co of Cardiff. In 1923 he joined the Royal Naval Reserve. He served for a six-month training period as a midshipman on the battle-cruiser HMS Hood, then joined the White Star Line and studied at the Cardiff School of Navigation for his Master's certificate.
But these were depression days, passenger shipping was in deep financial trouble and no jobs were on offer to newly qualified ship's Masters. Treasure Jones worked at whatever could be found, from labouring on the family farm to being an assistant superintendent stevedore in Liverpool docks. He went back to sea in 1937 as war clouds gathered over Europe, and when war finally erupted he was to be found serving aboard the White Star liner Laurentic as a Lieutenant-Commander RNR, the ship having been commissioned into the Royal Navy as an armed merchant cruiser.
On 3 November 1940 while on patrol in the North Atlantic she went to the assistance of a merchantman which had been torpedoed, and the Laurentic herself was attacked and sunk.
Treasure Jones was in the water for some hours before being picked up. He went to sea again in command of the corvette Sunflower, escorting convoys across the Atlantic, and he was mentioned in dispatches in 1943. At the end of the war he was in command of the 49 Escort Group and again mentioned in dispatches. He was promoted Captain RNR in 1945 before rejoining the Cunard-White Star Line in 1947. His first liner command was the Media, where I met him, travelling as one of his passengers. It was to be the first of many meetings aboard his ships.
Treasure Jones went on to command the Saxonia, Sylvania, Carinthia, and, to complete the set, was relief captain of the Ivernia (I was a guest at dinner while she lay at anchor in Cobb Bay en route for Montreal). He also commanded the lovely second Mauretania for her last two years before bringing her to the breakers in Scotland in 1965. He told me that when he left her in the junkyard he could not turn to look at her for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt.
He was then given command of the Queen Mary, and he and his ship spent their remaining time at sea together until he brought her on her most ambitious voyage, around Cape Horn to Long Beach in California in November 1967, when they both went into retirement. He asked me to visit the ship on the day before she was decommissioned. She was empty and most of her crew had been flown back to Britain; her great public rooms still had deflated balloons, and tattered paper decorations hanging where they had landed after her final gala night.
Treasure Jones retired to his home in Hampshire. He and his wife Belle entertained one to tea with homemade cakes, and scones spread with the jams that he made himself. The talk would be of great ships, his children, and his grandchildren; and when I was researching my book Liners In Art, to which he wrote a foreword, his suggestions were eagerly sought and often taken.
John Treasure Jones was active to the end of his days: he played cricket well into his eighties, and was on the golf course a couple of days before he died.