HALIFAX – A Canadian woman imprisoned in Nazi Germany for helping Allied crews escape occupied Netherlands will be honored on a postage stamp.
The Memorial Day stamp featuring a photo of Mona Parsons was unveiled Monday at a ceremony in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where Parsons grew up.
The stamp also features an image of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, whose troops Ms. Parsons met after escaping a German prison in 1945 and walking 125 kilometers to the Dutch border.
Mona Parsons was born in the Annapolis Valley in 1901 and lived in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband before the war. When the Nazi occupation began in May 1940, the couple supported the Dutch resistance by hiding Allied airmen whose planes had been shot down, and their house served as a staging point for the resistance network.
But in 1941, an informant handed the couple over to the Nazis and they were arrested.
A Canada Post press release states that Ms. Parsons was sentenced to death by firing squad. She appealed the decision and had the sentence commuted to lifelong hard labor. She spent three years as the only Canadian imprisoned by the Nazis during the war.
After escaping during an air raid, Ms. Parsons made a long trek to the Netherlands, where she met soldiers from Nova Scotia who were surprised to find a young Canadian so close to the front.
When she met the soldiers, her feet were severely infected and she was extremely thin, weighing only 80 pounds.
Eventually Parsons returned to Nova Scotia, where she lived until her death in 1976.
An unknown story to tell
Doug Ettinger, chief executive of Canada Post, said in a telephone interview that the stamp is one of 12 special stamps issued each year that focus on “Canadians who have shown courage or made a breakthrough.”
He noted that Parsons’ story remained “largely unknown in Canada.”
“We will be able to spread his story through our network, media and social networks across Canada,” he said Monday.
“We love telling the stories of great Canadians that people might not know about, and I think she is one of those people,” said Mr. Ettinger, who estimates about 1.5 million 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 that her reaction to the stamp was similar to Mrs. Parsons’ reaction when she was there was able to write to her father and stepmother in Nova Scotia to tell them that she had run away.
“(Mona Parsons) wrote, “The joy is almost too much to bear,” and I find it simply overwhelming joy. “I also feel like she continues to receive the recognition that she has deserved for so long,” she testified.
Mona Parsons was the daughter of Colonel Norval Parsons, who was himself known for his outstanding service in the First World War.
Her desire to become an actress led her to study and teach acting, eventually working in the Ziegfeld Follies choir in 1920s New York. After her mother’s death, she decided to become a nurse and worked in New York until she met Willem Leonhardt, a wealthy Dutch businessman. They married in 1937 and settled outside Amsterdam in an area called Ingleside.
Mrs. Parsons and her husband were both arrested and imprisoned in 1941. They were sent to different German prisons, not knowing whether the other was alive or dead.
When she was reunited with her husband in Ingleside after the war, she received awards from the Allied Forces for her bravery and from Air Chief Marshall Tedder of the Royal Air Force for her resistance activities.
Mrs. Parsons cared for her husband, whose health had been compromised by his time in captivity, until his death in 1956. A year later she returned to Canada, married again and settled in Wolfville, her childhood home.
The Mona Parsons stamp appears in booklets with 10 stamps. Collectibles are available on the Canada Post website and in post offices across Canada.
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