Monument unveiling honours Sarnia’s fallen hero

Tom Slater and Tom St. Amand

This is a follow-up to the Parsons and Muiden Monument articles in The Journal’s August 27th issue.

With a few hundred Dutch citizens from Muiden looking on, organizers and dignitaries officially unveiled the Muiden Halifax Monument on Saturday, September 5th. This hour-long ceremony was the culmination of nearly three years of work by a group of determined volunteers who sought to honour the seven deceased airmen of Halifax JB803. Sarnian Ted Parsons, 27, was the Flying-Officer Navigator aboard the Halifax that crashed on May 1, 1943 approximately150 metres from the site of the monument.

Six of the crew members, including Parsons, are buried in the Muiden General Cemetery.

In the process of building, erecting, and unveiling the monument, some citizens in Muiden forged strong ties with a few Sarnians.

Mayor Mike Bradley wrote letters to Mayor Han Ter Heegde of Muiden and to the six men who formed the Monument Committee, headed by Guus Kroon. Marty Strybos of Sarnia translated the letters into Dutch, so the recipients were given letters in both languages. Those in attendance appreciated this thoughtful gesture, especially when Mayor Ter Heegde, as part of his speech, read Mayor Bradley’s letter in Dutch.

Bradley expressed his gratitude on behalf of all Sarnians and discussed the strong ties that exist between The Netherlands and Canada. He closed his letter by stating that “The City of Muiden, with your actions and your respect for the human spirit and the essential nobility of self-sacrifice in war to preserve the freedoms of all, will long be remembered and treasured by the people of Sarnia.”

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 and the Sarnia Historical Society each donated $500 for the maintenance and preservation of the monument. The Monument Committee was surprised and extremely grateful.

The official unveiling was also a moving experience for Sharon McDonald, the niece of Ted Parsons. Although she could not be in Muiden on September 5, McDonald had kept in close contact with David van Coolwijk, the group’s researcher.

In his speech, van Coolwijk mentioned that he would be receiving a special package in a few days. When Gwendolin Parsons-Waite, McDonald’s mother and Ted’s sister, passed away in 2009, she was cremated. Last week, Sharon mailed her mother’s ashes to David in Muiden who will scatter them on her brother’s grave. An emotional van Coolwijk simply stated, “It is a great honour.”

The project took three years to complete, much longer than Guus Kroon envisioned when he began in 2017. But Kroon acknowledges it was time well spent.

The monument stands over three metres tall and the citizens of Muiden will take care of it in the ensuing years. Before a moment of silence near the end of the ceremony, Mayor Ter Heegde stated, “The heroes of Muiden now have a ‘memorial’ . . . they may be a shining example to us in their bravery, their courage, and their confidence in a good cause.”

May the crew of Halifax JB803 rest in peace.