Stamp honours war hero from Nova Scotia

A Canadian woman who was imprisoned in Germany for helping downed airmen escape back to England during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands will have her legacy remembered forever on a Canada Post Remembrance Day stamp.

Born in 1901 in Middleton, N.S. – and raised in nearby Wolfville – Mona Parsons was living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband Willem Leonhardt when they become part of the Dutch Resistance after the Nazi occupation in May 1940.

This eight-ft.-by-six-ft. image of the Mona Parsons stamp was unveiled Nov. 6 and is a permanent installation on the side of the Wolfville Post Office. From the left: Wendy Donovan, mayor of Wolfville; Andria Hill-Lehr, author of Mona Parsons: From Privilege to Prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe; and Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post. Photo: Carolina Andrade.

Parsons and her husband helped hide Allied airmen whose planes had been shot down over the Netherlands, their home serving as a stopping point in the resistance network. But in 1941, an informer betrayed the couple to the Nazis and they were arrested. Parsons was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by firing squad. However, historical accounts say Parsons responded to her sentence with such dignified calm that the chief judge permitted her to appeal. She successfully got her death sentence commuted to life with hard labour.

According to Wikipedia, Parsons – who worked in Canada as an actress and nurse before moving to the Netherlands  – was put to work both in a German prison and on occasional details outside to take food from the prison kitchen to wounded soldiers and other patients to nearby hospitals.

The website includes excerpts of the one letter she was able to get out of prison, addressed to her father and stepmother, and dated May 3, 1945:

“Prison was a hard, nasty, cold, hungry & demoralizing life,” she wrote. “We were always associating with criminals. That never should have been. Political prisoners should have been kept apart. The first year I was ill a lot, weighed only about 94 pounds & was green – night sweats, coughing & diarrhea every day for 3½ months & often vomiting. Tears have run down my cheeks of hunger. When the diarrhea got better I was given a pint of soup extra – made from turnip & potato peelings … There were no medicines to be had. We slept four in a tiny cell built for one. In all the years of imprisonment, I slept always on a straw sack on the floor … I was in solitary once for two weeks, for writing a letter in English …”

In the same letter, she adds: “Practically 4 years of isolation. During my first contact with people – after throwing off my half-witted act – I felt only half-conscious of all that went on about me. My body was shaky – my brain seemed quite numb – thoroughly incapable of absorbing what was said to me. My head spun. It just seemed too much, all of a sudden. We’d had literally no brain stimulation all these years …”

Parsons spent three years in prison, until 1945, when she escaped during an Allied bombardment. She then embarked on a dangerous journey out of Germany, walking 125 kilometres over three weeks to the Dutch border. By the time she arrived, her feet had become badly infected and she was emaciated, weighing just 87 pounds.

Safely back in the Netherlands, Parsons sought help from an Allied soldier. Incredibly, he was also from Nova Scotia. He was part of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders unit that had advanced into the country.

Parsons and her husband Leonhardt were reunited after the war, but he never fully recovered from his imprisonment and died in 1956. Parsons eventually returned to Nova Scotia, where she remarried and lived until her death in 1976.


The new stamp features a portrait of Parsons, with a photograph of infantry soldiers of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders advancing into the Netherlands. Designed by Larry Burke and Anna Stredulinsky from Burke & Burke and printed by Lowe-Martin, the issue includes a booklet of 10 Permanent domestic rate stamps, an official first-day cover (OFDC), and a pane of five stamps. The cancel site is Wolfville, N.S.

For the complete printing specifications, see the story in the print issue of Canadian Stamp News.






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