A recently discovered collection of war-time letters has uncovered a gay romance that was kept secret for decades.
The letters were found by memorabilia collector Mark Hignett while he was scouring the web for pieces of military mail. The notes tell the story of a young soldier named Gilbert Bradley and his sweetheart, referred to simply as “G.”
When Hignett was first reading the messages, he assumed Bradley’s lover was a woman—however, he soon realized that the “G” stood for Gordon Bowsher and that Bradley was in love with a man.
The 62-year-old collector has amassed over 300 letters written from Gordon to Gilbert between 1939 and 1944, an amount he says is incredibly rare given that homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain until 1967.
“The value of these letters lies in the fact most love letters from homosexuals at the time were burned, because if they were found, they would have been used as evidence,” he explained to Metro.
“The story really has a life of its own, it’s a fantastic love story to rival the Titanic.”
From what Hignett was able to gather, the pair first met on a houseboat holiday when Bowsher was dating Bradley’s nephew. They quickly struck up a rapport and fell into a passionate romance. When war broke out a year later, the two maintained their connection through letters while Bradley was on the front line.
Wednesday January 24th 1939
… I lie awake all night waiting for the postman in the early morning, and then when he does not bring anything from you I just exist, a mass of nerves…
All my love forever,
While the couple were quite open with one another in their letters, they still wanted to keep their relationship private from heterosexual family members who had “no conception” of what kind of love they had.
February 12 1940, Park Grange
My own darling boy,
There is nothing more than I desire in life but to have you with me constantly…
…I can see or I imagine I can see, what your mother and father’s reaction would be… the rest of the world have no conception of what our love is – they do not know that it is love…
They even dreamed of the future, specifically of moving to California after the war to build a life together.
February 1st, 1941 K . C. Gloucester Regiment, Priors Road, Cheltenham
My darling boy,
For years I had it drummed into me that no love could last for life…
I want you darling seriously to delve into your own mind, and to look for once in to the future.
Imagine the time when the war is over and we are living together… would it not be better to live on from now on the memory of our life together when it was at its most golden pitch.
Your own G.
Unfortunately, their love would not last the war and their correspondence ended in 1945. Bowsher eventually moved to California to become a horse trainer and Bradley settled in Brighton after completing training in Scotland.
The letters were first put up for sale after Bradley’s death in 2008 and are now entirely owned by the Oswestry Town Museum, where Hignett is a curator.
In addition to displaying the letters in the museum, Hignett plans to incorporate them into a book about Bradley’s life.
“I’ve transcribed every letter and I’ve even got hold of a picture of Gilbert,” he said. “I plan to make a book about Gilbert’s life, but told through the eyes of others. It’s just a beautiful story.”