They sought shelter through the burgomeister, who wanted to know
where they were from. Wendelien said they were refugees from
Dusseldorf. When he asked for their identity papers, Wendelien told
him they'd been lost in their flight from the city. Satisfied with her
story, he gave them new papers and arranged lodging at two
Mona felt a bit panicked at the news they would be separated.
Continuing her act had been difficult enough, but now she would
have to do it without Wendelien's support. The farm Mona was
taken to was filthy, home to a poor farmer, his wife, and their six
children. Mona had to share the bed of the eldest girl, who was 12
years of age. Believing Mona to be mentally challenged, the children
tormented her. She was helpless to resist or discipline them.
During the first few days, Mona could hear artillery fire in the
distance, but went about the farm tasks assigned to her. One
morning, the artillery fire moved closer until it was all around them.
The farmer ordered the family and Mona into the cellar. Mona, who
vividly recalled her times in solitary confinement, refused to go. She
and the farmer remained on the main floor, watching soldiers scurry
through the farmyard, setting up machine gun nests and returning
fire as the Allied soldiers moved closer.
At one point there was a lull in the fighting. The farmer took a plate
of food to a young soldier near the house. As Mona watched, a huge
plume of smoke and dirt engulfed them both as she heard the shell
burst. Without waiting for the smoke to clear, she bolted to the
cellar with the others. When the fighting moved away and the family
emerged from the cellar, the eldest girl bolted outside and began
screaming. Her mother and Mona followed, and found the two men
- the farmer and the young soldier - dead in the ditch, the young
soldier still clutching the sausage the farmer had given him.
Mona helped the farmer's wife carry the farmer's body into the
house and lay it on a sofa. Before they could do anything else,
panicked neighbours burst through the door with news that the
Poles were advancing, urging them to gather what they could and
flee into Holland.
Mona helped the farmers wife load onto a cart what they could, and
guide it across a marshy patch into Holland.
Mona later wrote that they spent a cold night in a hay mow in a
field, amid barking dogs and crying babies. In the morning, a Dutch
farmer collected them and took them to his home. Once sure she
was back in Holland, Mona dropped her disguise, telling the farmer
that she was a Canadian married to a Dutch national, and that she
had to find British troops immediately. She had not been able to
contact her father through the Red Cross since October 1943, and
she could think only of a getting a message to him to let him know
she was still alive.
The Dutch farmer and his wife bandaged her badly damaged feet
and gave her a pair of wooden clogs to wear. Then they packed her
a lunch, and the farmer's brother took her on the back of his bicycle
to what he thought were British troops.
Mona couldn't have known of Operation Wehrwolf, a last desperate
attempt by the Nazis to slow the Allied approach, encouraging
women to befriend Allied soldiers, stealing their food and weapons,
and even killing them if they had the chance. So when Mona
approached a group of what she thought were British soldiers
loading a truck and identified herself, she couldn't understand why
their greeting wasn't warmer. The soldiers regarded with suspicion
the filthy woman before them. Where once she had worn designer
clothes and adorned herself with jewels, her 5' 8" frame now carried
only 87 lbs and was draped in rags, her hair matted with dirt. Their
suspicion mounted when she told them she was Canadian. One
soldier finally asked guardedly where she was from.
When she replied that she was from a small town in Nova Scotia's
Annapolis Valley - a little town called Wolfville - he swore and nearly
dropped the box he was holding.
"My name is Clarence Leonard. I'm from Halifax. We are the North
Nova Scotia Highlanders."
Mona was treated for the badly-infected sores on her feet before
being removed to Oldenburg - practically where she and Wendelien
had started - for further questioning by Intelligence personnel.
When a British officer, a Major Bridges, heard that she claimed to be
from Wolfville, Nova Scotia, he went in search of a Canadian officer,
Captain Vincent White, whom he knew had attended Acadia
University. Perhaps he knew of this Mona Parsons. White, with
whom Mona had acted in productions at Acadia in 1928, was
stunned to learn of her presence in Germany. He told Captain Ralph
Shaw, who had family in Wolfville and also knew Mona.
At this point, Mona was being housed in a former labour camp for
Polish women. They consulted the surgeon in charge of a nearby
clearing station, Captain Kelly McLean, another old friend of Mona's
from 1920-21. He arranged for her to be transferred to a residence
for Canadian nurses. While at the residence, she met up with
Captain Robbins Elliott, whose father back in Wolfville had been the
Parsons family physician until the Parsons moved away. Mona wrote
to her father, describing Robbins as "a fine looking young man." In
turn, Robbins wrote home to his father, telling him the incredible
tale of his former patient.
Mona was moved to #12 Canadian General Hospital in Nijmegen
because, although she was Canadian, she had Dutch citizenship and
was considered a "displace person". As such, she had to go through
the process of repatriation before she could be permitted to return
to her home in Laren. While at the hospital in Nijmegen, she was
given a pen and as much paper as she wanted. She set about
writing a 34-page letter to her father and step-mother - her first
communication with them since 1943. She wrote the letter over a
few days, and the May 3 entry includes the following passage:
…. It's Heaven to be with my own race again. I go to sleep to the
lusty singing of 'Sweet Adeline' (which comes from the Canadian
soldiers in the tents outside my window) and I awaken to the
equally lusty rendering of 'Pack Up Your Troubles'. It does my heart
good. The food, I might say, does my stomach good too - but I'll
have to be careful if I want to preserve a slender line….
…. The news these past three days is simply thrilling. Perhaps this
week will see the finish of this horrible and wicked war. Thank God
food is now going into Germany occupied Holland. Conditions there
were appalling. All our friends and family have been suffering for
they all live in this section. It will be so unbelievably wonderful to
get in my own house again. I'm wondering what is left of our things
- but that didn't really matter. People often lose their all in these
dreadful days and the thing that really matters is that one lives, is
healthy and can soon be reunited with one's loved ones….
…. Prison was a hard, nasty, cold, hungry & demoralizing life. 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 & diarrhoea every day for 3 ½
months & often vomiting. Tears have run down my cheeks for
hunger. When the diarrhoea got better I was given a pint of soup
extra - made from turnip & potato peelings - every day for 6
months & my vitamin tablets which I had been allowed to keep with
me. 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.
Fortunately no one could read English, otherwise another prisoner
She could convincingly play the part of someone with a
cleft palate who was also intellectually challenged.
page 3 of 4
page 3 of 4
might have been involved. I got out of it by saying it was only a
little story I was writing to amuse myself. We were not allowed to
have pencil or paper. 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 - we were forbidden to talk during our 12 hour
working day - at night too tired to do anything but crawl into bed.
Even when we weren't too tired to talk - we'd have little to talk
about. We heard no news scarcely. We were not even allowed to
But now all that's finished. Now there's so much to do, to read, to
hear, to learn. One wishes every day were 48 hours. I'm
feverishly trying to catch up on the overwhelmingly great number
of events of these last - to me - quite wasted years. My brain is a
veritable whirly-gig. For the last three days I've felt quite rested &
normal. The reaction to all I'd been through had given me the
jitters & my renewed contact with civilization had disarmed me in
a way I had never believed possible. I've got to get used to life
again & normal people. It's all very strange.
Then, on when the surrender was signed at the hotel in
Wageningen on May 5, 1945, she scribbled this hasty post-script:
Holland has capitulated - thrills & heart-throbs! I can scarcely
believe it, & today I'm going to try to arrange to get transport
back home. What heaven to be there again. How sweepingly &
rapidly everything has gone this week. The joy is almost too much
A few days later, her friends arranged a day-visit to Laren for her
in a staff car. Along for the ride to cover the story for the Toronto
Telegram, was Alan Kent, a war correspondent originally from
Halifax. Mona was overjoyed to see friends, who were somewhat
thinner than they'd been when she'd last seen them, and enjoyed
a tearful reunion with her dog, Brick, who survived the war.
Uppermost in Mona's mind was her husband's fate. Several days
would go by before her brother-in-law, Georg, confirmed that
Willem had been liberated from a camp by American soldiers, and
that his services as a translator had been engaged by the
American military. It would be July before Mona and Willem would
be reunited in Laren.
In the early months following the war's end, Mona received two
citations. The first, signed by Air Chief Marshall Lord Arthur
Tedder of the Royal Air Force, was on behalf of the British people,
thanking her for her role in aiding members of the Allied forces to
evade capture. The second was signed by General Dwight
Eisenhower, expressing the gratitude of the American people.
While certainly proud and honoured to receive them, the citations
were yet another reminder of a chapter in Mona's life which she
wished to consign to the scrapbook. Life, she had learned, was
even more precious than she had imagined. It were as though
she had been given a second chance at it, and she was intent on
embracing it fully. Both Mona and Willem worked at regaining
their health, but Willem struggled. He became withdrawn and
sullen, and began to drink heavily, eating little. Even trips to the
Bircher-Benner clinic in Switzerland didn't help much, nor did a
cruise to New York with friends help his spirits. They visited Nova
Scotia in the spring of 1946, and the interview with local papers
reported that both were in good health, but that appears to have
been a front.
Willem suffered a bout of 'pleuritis' in November 1952 and
underwent surgery to repair an aneurism in April 1954. Mona
tried to encourage Willem to follow the diet they'd been given at
the Bircher-Benner Clinic - lots of fruit, vegetables, and yogurt,
and very little animal protein - but her efforts were to no avail.
When Mona's brother, Ross and his wife, Mary visited Holland in
the early 1950s, they were shocked by the change in Willem,
whom they reported did not come downstairs for breakfast and,
when he rose later in the morning, would begin to drink. Even
Mona wrote that Willem seemed to be "sadistic", though she gave
no details. Evidence of problems within their marriage can be
found in a small notebook that was still among Mona's
possessions when she died in 1976. On December 31, 1953 she
wrote "New Years' Eve 'thuis - alleen 9" ("home alone"); and the
following day: "Jan 1/54 'thuis alleen 9".
In April 1956 Willem became gravely ill and was hospitalized in
Amsterdam, where he died. In the days following Willem's
funeral, Mona would be devastated to learn that, as early as June
30, 1950, Willem had changed a life insurance policy for 50,000
guilders from the name of his former wife, Marion Manus, to that
of Pam Houtappel, wife of his best friend, Piet Houtappel. Further,
on March 26, 1954, Willem had visited his notary - a Mr. de Lange
- and changed his will, stipulating that 300,000 guilders (one-
quarter of his estate) be given to Pam Houtappel-Kuynder.
While Mona was reeling from these blows, she was informed that
Willem's son from his first marriage was legitimate. His name was
Bernard Willem Leonhardt, and under Dutch law was entitled to
three-quarters of his father's estate. That left Mona with nothing
other than the things she owned: her clothing, her jewellery,
some furniture and shares in Peck & Co., her husband's company.
Mona had clear title to Ingleside - Willem had at least granted her
that - but without funds to maintain it, she was forced to sell it.
She left Ingleside for the last time on May 5, 1957 - the twelfth
anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe - moving into
rooms at the Hotel Jan Tabak in Bussum.
Although Mona hired a lawyer, resolved to contest the will, she
became disillusioned and embittered with Holland. On December
8, 1957 she sailed back to Halifax, taking up residence at the Lord
Nelson Hotel. She looked for a suitable apartment while she
waited for her effects to arrive from Holland. She settled into
apartment 6 at 56 Inglis Street, where she found that one of her
neighbours was an old friend, Major General Harry Foster. Harry
had seen Mona at the Canadian General Hospital in Nijmegen, and
a few times after the war, in Holland, while he was served with
the Commission for Canadian War Graves in Europe. Harry was
retired, and divorced, and the two happily got reacquainted. They
married in June 1959. The first few years of their marriage, Harry
fully supported Mona's legal battle, and was supportive when
finally, in 1961, she lost the battle. Only three years later, she lost
Harry to cancer.
On her own again, she continued to live in their house at Lobster
Point, near the Chester Golf Club. She sold the house but
continued to live in it as a tenant, investing the proceeds so that
she had funds for activities in Halifax, and to travel. In March
1966 she decided to return to Europe - the first time since leaving
it in 1957. She renewed friendships and laid some old ghosts to
A car accident on icy roads just before Christmas in 1969 caused
her to reconsider her living arrangements. Mona was getting older
and living in a rural area that didn't offer public transit. She
considered moving to Halifax before finally deciding to return to
Wolfville. Although she'd not lived there in many years, she'd
made many happy memories there. While a prisoner of war, some
of the few letters she'd been permitted to write to Willem had
mentioned moving back there.
She found an apartment on Main Street in the summer of 1970,
within walking distance of shops and the university, where she
thought she might take courses. A cinema and offerings by the
Acadia Performing Arts Series would provide stimulating
entertainment. A few of the older generation knew who she was
and what she'd endured during World War Two. To a new, younger
generation, however, she seemed to be a likeable, though