World War II letters reveal a forbidden gay love affair


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Love letters abounded during World War II as soldiers stationed throughout Europe wrote home to loved ones left behind when they departed for the front. Recently discovered letters tell of a forbidden gay love.

One such soldier, Gilbert Bradley, fell in love while on military training and shared hundreds of love letters with his sweetheart.

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His lover signed the return letters “G”.

After the war, Gilbert became involved briefly with MP Sir Paul Latham, previously imprisoned following a court-martial for ‘improper conduct’ with three gunners and a civilian.

Most poignant words in gay World War II-era letters

When Gilbert Bradley died in 2008, a house clearance company found the war-time letters and sold them to a dealer specialising in military mail.

Oswestry Town Museum then bought the letters. Curator Mark Hignett often searched eBay for items connected with the town.

Mark Hignett initially assumed ‘G’ was a girlfriend. However, he later identified the initial as that of Gordon Bowsher. Mark Hignett then recognised the significance of the letters as documenting forbidden gay love.

Although Gilbert and Gordon corresponded right through the war, the letters stopped in 1945.

Gordon Bowsher moved to California and became a well-known horse trainer. In a strange twist, he employed Sirhan Sirhan, who would go on to assassinate US junior senator Robert Kennedy.

Although he spent ‘thousands of pounds’ on the collection of more than 600 letters, Mark Hignett believes in terms of historical worth the correspondence is ‘invaluable’.

“Such letters are extremely rare because they were incriminating – gay men faced years in prison with or without hard labour.

“There was even the possibility that gay soldiers could have been shot.”

Ironically, one letter contained poignant words now of incredible relevance.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.”

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The letters are now on show at Oswestry Town Museum, in Shropshire, England. Also, work on a book is already underway.

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