Mona Parsons Sentenced to Death
An unlikely war hero, Mona Parsons was sentenced to
a Nazi prison camp for helping dozens of downed
Allied airmen escape (courtesy Andria Hill).
Forgotten Annapolis Valley war hero: From socialite to the Dutch
Resistance to POW
Heather Killen email@example.com
Published on October 30, 2015
MIDDLETON - Growing up near the Bay of Fundy, Mona Parsons
probably realized a rising tide would raise all boats
Parsons, who was born in Middleton and later became a resident
of Wolfville, is an unlikely - and mostly forgotten - war hero. If
leading men into battle and confirmed kills are marks of heroes,
Parsons is best remembered as a creature of peace.
Parsons’ courage is marked in the gestures of compassion and
hope that lifted others.
Wendy Elliott, a member of the Women of Wolfville, is among
those determined to save Parsons from becoming forgotten by
“Both my father and aunt knew her; it was a given that I would
help,” she said. “There are so many stories about Mona -
people still remember her.”
Little known locally
Until recently, little was recorded about Parsons’ wartime
efforts. When author Andria Hill-Lehr first became intrigued by
the story, there wasn’t much to go on.
For nearly 20 years, she has been trying to rescue Parsons from
the obscurity of time and the terse and banal description on her
“Mona Parsons, 1901-1976, wife of Major General HW Foster,
While both U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and RAF Air Chief
Marshal Lord Arthur Tedder recognized Parsons for wartime
bravery, local efforts to memorialize the woman have fallen
When she returned home to the Annapolis Valley years later, it
seems Parsons' larger than life personality was somewhat out
of place in a small town. Some remember an elegantly dressed,
gracious, frail lady; others recall an over-the-top, older woman
with funny hands and crazy stories of being with the Dutch
“They told me, she drank,” confides Hill-Lehr in a stage whisper
that Parsons would have appreciated.
Elliott’s father, Robbins Elliott, was instrumental in helping Hill-
Lehr unearth the finer details of Parsons' life for her biography,
Mona Parsons: From privilege to prison, from Nova Scotia to
Parsons was born in Middleton in 1901. Her father, Norval
Parsons, owned a hardware business on the spot where the
town’s Pharmasave now sits.
As a child, she attended the Macdonald School and the Baptist
church. In 1911, her father’s hardware business burned and the
family moved to Wolfville.
Her teenage years were lively and full of social activities.
Blessed with a lovely voice and natural grace, she enrolled at
the Conservatory of Music and Fine Arts, where she developed a
flair for drama and theatre.
“Mona firmly believed that not only should a woman be able to
move with confidence, grace, and ease, but that she should also
learn to express herself well,” wrote Hill-Lehr.
Parsons freely shared her knowledge and talent, whether it was
teaching the basic steps of popular dances or the best-kept
secrets from her favourite recipes.
After graduating from Acadia Ladies’ Seminary, Parsons headed
off to New York, where she earned her a spot as one of the
A few years later, she was introduced to Willem Leonhardt, the
Dutch millionaire she would later marry. The couple moved to
Holland and, for two years, enjoyed a jet-set lifestyle of parties,
vacations and luxury.
On her second wedding anniversary, the Germans invaded
Poland and Parsons wrote a letter to her father, who was still
living in Nova Scotia.
“Billy (Willem) is still ill—poor thing—and we are most unhappy
over world news. Of course, I don’t go to Canada now. My place
She had other opportunities to escape wartime Europe: her
husband had arranged her safe passage back to Canada, but
she refused. While they made no obvious moves against the
Nazis, Parsons and her husband quietly joined the Dutch
Resistance, helping allied airman evade capture in a secret
closet hiding spot behind Parsons’ shoes.
The soldiers who evaded capture told stories of midnight
escapes, driven in the couple's luxury cars, through near misses
at countless checkpoints.
The Leonhardts’ social status initially offered some protection,
but, ultimately, they were betrayed to the Nazis. Leonhardt
made a run for it when he learned the Gestapo was coming,
pretending to be away on a fishing trip. Parsons stayed behind,
partly to stall the Nazis and hoping to safeguard their home and
Parsons was taken into custody and sentenced to death, but her
dignity in facing the tribunal curried favour and her life was
spared. She was sentenced to life in a labour camp.
For four years, she lived in squalor, disease and hunger,
sleeping alongside murderers. Some prisoners recount Parsons’
kindness: how she gave them scraps of food or clothes and
entertained them with fantastic recipe ideas that she cooked up
as food for their souls.
“To those who have not food enough, such descriptions were
almost enough to fill the stomach — and reminded us that we
had something to look forward to when we regained our
freedom,” recalled fellow prisoner Wendelien van Boetzelaer in
While working in a bomb factory, Parsons deliberately mis-
Mona Parsons on the terrace of her home with her beloved dogs.
wired weapons. When she finally escaped the prison
camp with van Boetzelaer, the daring move was
straight out of a Hollywood movie.
Unfortunately, Parsons’ last years in Wolfville were not
so sunny. Left penniless after Leonhardt's death and
later widowed from her second husband, her health
began to decline.
Suffering from emphysema, post-traumatic stress and
other ill effects of the war, she gradually became
bedridden and increasingly isolated.
She had safeguarded many treasures from her Holland
home — opera glasses, couturier dresses, a mink stole,
fine silver, and crystal – but never completely erased
the scars of the war.
Her hands were gnarled from hard labour and a
watermark stained the top of her rare piano. The
muddy rings marked the spots where the German
officers carelessly left their glasses when they occupied
Forgotten Annapolis Valley war hero: From socialite to
the Dutch Resistance to POW
The Women of Wolfville have been working on Parsons’
behalf to officially recognize her with a memorial statue
celebrating her spirit and wartime heroism. The group
is fundraising to purchase a larger-than-life memorial
created by artist Nils Prem de Boer and want to have
the piece installed in the town square.
“We’ve raised about half of what we need,” said Elliott.
“This has taken a lot longer than we expected. Dead
heroines don't seem to inspire donations.”
Hannah Rose, of Middleton, has been hooked on Mona’s
story ever since she picked up Hill-Lehr’s book. She
wants to start a similar group in Middleton to
commemorate Parsons in her first hometown.
“We’ve all walked in her steps,” she said. “I can
imagine her going from her house along Main Street
and across Commercial Street to the Macdonald School.
She may have grown up in Wolfville, but she belongs to
us, too. We are the beginning of this free spirit.”
Did you know?
Hill-Lehr’s book, Mona Parsons: From privilege to
prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe is available at
the Carousel Gift Shop at Soldiers Memorial Hospital in
Middleton, and at the Box of Delights Bookstore in
Wolfville. Read more on the official Mona Parsons
Want to help?
For more information on the Middleton Committee to
recognize Mona Parsons, contact Hannah Rose at 902-
825-4137. For more information on the Women of
Wolfville’s initiative, contact Wendy Elliott at
Link to the Artical in The Annapolis Spector: