World War II Letters Reveal Forbidden Love Affair


Love letters abounded during World War II as soldiers stationed throughout Europe wrote home to their loved ones they were forced to leave behind.

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

The return letters from his lover were simply signed “G”, whom it was assumed were from Gilbert’s girlfriend. But more than 70 years later, it was discovered that G stood for Gordon, and Gilbert had been in love with a man.

At the time, not only was homosexuality illegal, but those in the armed forces could be shot for having gay sex.

Life as a gay man in the 1940s was incredibly difficult. Homosexual activity was a court-martial offence, jail sentences for so-called “gross indecency” were common, and much of society strongly disapproved of same-sex relationships.

It was not until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that consenting men aged 21 and over were legally allowed to have gay relationships – and being openly gay in the armed services was not allowed until 2000.

Although the couple wrote throughout 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 be convicted of assassinating US junior senator Robert Kennedy.

Mr Bradley was briefly entangled with the MP Sir Paul Latham, who was imprisoned in 1941 following a court martial for “improper conduct” with three gunners and a civilian.

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

They were finally bought by Oswestry Town Museum, when curator Mark Hignett was searching on eBay for items connected with the town.

Although he’s spent “thousands of pounds” on the collection of more than 600 letters, he 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,” Mr Hignett said.

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

Ironically, one letter contained the poignant words: “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.”

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