It’s long past time that a Wolfville war heroine is officially remembered.
Mona Parsons never put on a uniform or carried a gun, but she put her life on the line to help defeat the Nazis. Her story is the stuff movies are made of, yet few people have ever heard her name.
Born in Middleton in 1901, Parsons attended the Acadia Ladies’ Seminary in Wolfville. After attending the Currie School of Expression in Boston, she returned to Acadia, where she acted in several productions. In 1929, she moved to New York, where she became a Ziegfeld Follies Showgirl, then trained as a nurse in New Jersey. She was working with a doctor when she met and married Dutch businessman Willem Leonhardt and moved to Holland just before the start of the Second World War.
When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, this brave woman wasn’t about to sit idly by. Instead, she joined the Dutch underground, dismissing her servants and instead concealing Allied airmen in her home. A “hiding place” behind the closet in the master bedroom was created as an emergency shelter for the airmen in case her home was searched.
In September 1941, however, the jig was up after the German Gestapo infiltrated the resistance. Along with her husband, she was taken into custody by the Germans. Parsons became one of the first – and few – women to be tried by a Nazi military tribunal in the Netherlands.
Although she was originally sentenced to death, she was allowed to appeal her sentence and began serving a life sentence with hard labour instead. She was the only Canadian, female civilian who was imprisoned by the Nazis during the Second World War.
In March 1945, Parsons and a Dutch baroness escaped and journeyed on foot back to Holland, eluding capture using a variety of disguises and personas. When Parsons finally reached the Dutch border, she was taken in by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.
Parsons’ husband died in 1956, and in 1957, she returned to Nova Scotia, where she married a childhood friend and resided in Chester for several years. She moved back to Wolfville after his death, where she remained until her own death in 1976.
Parsons was recognized through citations from both Britain’s Air Chief Marshall Lord Arthur Tedder and from General Dwight Eisenhower from the United States for her courage in sheltering members of the Allied forces.
Her home country of Canada and her hometown of Wolfville have remained strangely silent on the matter, however. Surely her contributions deserve to be remembered; her name should be commonly known among Canadian households.
A campaign was launched recently to recognize Parsons’ contributions to the war. We honour veterans every year and we have marked the year of the war bride. It’s past the time to commemorate Mona Parsons.