Late this summer a letter arrived at my Ottawa office from a woman living about 40 minutes away in the Quebec village of Wakefield.
Gunda Lambton had read my book about Canadians in the Spanish Civil War and wanted to get in touch. She had a personal connection to Spain and its civil war, having lived in the country as a young woman for about a year in 1934 and 1935.
I telephoned Gunda and promised to visit, but then the autumn got busy and I didn’t make the trip until yesterday. I wish I had gone sooner.
Gunda, aged 96, has led what is by any measure a full and remarkable life. She grew up in Germany and spent large chunks of the 1930s working, teaching, and studying art in England, Spain, and Italy. She married an American artist and moved with him to England. From there she was evacuated with her children to Canada to escape the Blitz. A black-and-white photograph on her bookshelf shows a young girl who somehow looks familiar. It is her daughter, Fiona. Gunda’s first husband was Garth Williams, who illustrated Charlotte’s Web and used Fiona as his model for the story’s character, Fern Arable. Gunda remarried in 1949 and now lives with her second husband, Bill.
Gunda received an MA from Carleton University in 1988, at the age of 74, and soon after began writing books. She has since published several, including Sun in Winter, about living in Toronto during the Second World War. The book contains striking paintings and sketches Gunda completed at the time.
Her most recent manuscript is unpublished. It’s about the year she spent in Spain before the civil war consumed that country. “I was already against fascism because of my time in Germany,” she says. “I wept terrible tears when Germany supported Franco.”
Spain, Gunda says, “changed my life. It’s hard to properly explain now.”
Gunda has explained, though, in a beautiful and limpid memoir about a pivotal time and place in the history of the 20th century. Gunda says she no longer has the energy to “flog” the manuscript. But it deserves a publisher. I invite anyone who is interested to contact me at: [email protected]. I’ll put you in touch.