Stamp of Mona Parsons, jailed by Nazis for aiding aircrews, unveiled in Nova Scotia

WOLFVILLE, N.S. — A Canadian woman who was jailed in Nazi Germany for helping Allied aircrews escape the occupied Netherlands is being honoured on a postage stamp.

The Remembrance Day stamp showing a photo of Mona Parsons was unveiled Monday during a ceremony in Wolfville, N.S., where Parsons grew up.

The stamp also shows an image of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, whose troops Parsons met after she had escaped from a German prison in 1945 and walked 125 kilometres to the Dutch border.

Born in 1901 in the Annapolis Valley, Parsons had been living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband before the war. When the Nazi occupation began in May 1940, the couple assisted the Dutch resistance by hiding Allied airmen whose planes had been shot down, and their home served as a stopping point in the resistance network.

However, in 1941, an informer betrayed the couple to the Nazis, who arrested them.

A news release from Canada Post says Parsons was sentenced to death by firing squad. She appealed the ruling, and had the sentence commuted to life with hard labour. She spent three years as the only Canadian woman to be imprisoned by the Nazis during the war.

After her escape during an aerial bombardment, Parsons made her long walk to the Netherlands, where she encountered the soldiers from Nova Scotia, who were startled to find a young Canadian woman so close to the front lines.

By the time she met the soldiers, her feet had become badly infected and she was extremely thin, weighing just 87 pounds.

Eventually, Parsons returned to Nova Scotia, where she lived until her death in 1976.

Doug Ettinger, chief executive of Canada Post, said in a telephone interview that the stamp is one of about 12 special stamps issued each year that are focused on "Canadians that have shown courage or had a breakthrough of some kind."

He said he's pleased with the inclusion of Parsons's story, which has remained "largely unknown across Canada."

"We'll be able to amplify her story across Canada through our network, through media, through social media and we enjoy doing that," he said Monday.

"We enjoy telling the stories of great Canadians that people might not be aware of, and I think she is one of those people."

Ettinger estimated that about 1.5 million of the stamps will be printed.

Andria Hill-Lehr, who wrote the biography "Mona Parsons: From Privilege to Prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe," said in an interview Monday her reaction to the stamp is similar to the reaction Parsons expressed when she was able to write to her father and stepmother back in Nova Scotia to say she had escaped.

"(Parsons) wrote, 'The joy is almost too much to bear,' and I'm finding that it's just overwhelming joy I also feel that she is continuing to receive recognition that has so long been her due," Hill-Lehr said.

Parsons was the daughter of Colonel Norval Parsons, himself recognized for his distinguished service during the First World War.

Her aspirations to be an actress led her to study and teach drama, and to eventually work in the chorus line of the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s in New York City. After her mother’s death, she decided to pursue nursing, and worked in New York City until she met Willem Leonhardt, a wealthy Dutch businessman. They married in 1937 and settled outside Amsterdam at an estate known as Ingleside.

The couple were both arrested and imprisoned in 1941. They would be sent to various German prisons, never knowing if the other was alive or dead.

Reunited with her husband at Ingleside after the war, she received commendations for bravery from the Allied Expeditionary Forces, and from Air Chief Marshall Tedder of the Royal Air Force for her resistance activities.

Parsons nursed her husband, whose health had been damaged by his time in captivity, until his death in 1956. A year later, she returned to Canada, remarried, and resettled in her childhood home of Wolfville.

The Mona Parsons stamp is coming out in booklets of 10 domestic-rate stamps. The collectibles are available at Canada Post's website and postal outlets across Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.

The Canadian Press