(Photo credit: Owestry Town Museum)
An amazing cache of WWII love letters has been found, between a soldier named Gilbert Bradley, and his sweetheart, Gordon Bowsher.
There are over 300 letters between the two. The person who happened upon the first few thought they were simply charming WWII letters from a GI stationed in England to his sweetheart back home, whom the soldier referred to simply as “G” — it wasn’t until he’d collected several of them that he realized that “G” was a man.
When I wrote the first draft of my story, Right Here Waiting, I’ll admit that I didn’t do much research into WWII LBGTQ history. I just was trying to write a simple love story for a friend, a gay man who’d always dreamt of having a Old Hollywood romance about people “like him”, he said. That’s what I set out to do – to write a happy ending about gay men.
I knew I wanted it to include letters, and as WWII is “in my wheelhouse” as they say, I knew that GI’s letters would be subject to strict military censors. Loving, romantic, explicit letters between Peter and Benjamin would surely have been noted, and terrible consequences would have likely come down. But letters from Peter to “B–” would fly under the radar, so to speak. And so, that’s how I wrote the story.
It wasn’t until after I’d worked the story into a novel, and began working with my publisher that news of the the beautiful “Letter To A GI” came my way. It gave me hope that perhaps I wasn’t too far off the mark. And then I found the seminal work “Coming Out Under Fire: The History Of Gay Men and Women in World War II” by Alan Bérubé. As the book’s back cover blurb states:
“In Coming Out Under Fire, Allan Berube examines in depth and detail these social and political confrontation–not as a story of how the military victimized homosexuals, but as a story of how a dynamic power relationship developed between gay citizens and their government, transforming them both.”
Though there were many many awful things that happened to many LGBTQ people in the military, there many LGBTQ people who had wonderful, life-changing experiences in the military; it’s pointed out in Coming Out that, for many gays, it was the first time they were co-mingling with so many different people from across the nation & thus their first time being around other gay people.
As an aside, and in respectful response to several readers who reached out to let me know they were concerned about the “erasure” of some of the very real LGBTQ struggles in WWII, I would like to just make two points:
1) Right Here Waiting was always intended to be somewhat sappy, soft-focus, glossy Old Hollywood romance. It was never intended to be a realistic retelling of experience.
And, the most important point, 2) not all of gay history is hate-filled, recriminations, bashings and guilt.
There are many happy endings out there in gay history. There must be !There have been gay people since there have been people. Gay history stretches back to the dawn of history. Alexander the Great loved Hephaestion; Plato wrote of the the Sacred Band of Thebes, 150 pairs of men, each with their beloved “Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?” In Ancient Egypt, Khnum-hotep and Niankhkhum were two men,not buried with their wives and families, but together, in the same tomb with paintings embracing and holding hands, though some scholars argue that perhaps it just means that they were conjoined twins…
The list goes on, my friends.
As my friend, Laura Stone, writes in her blog
We in our modern way of thinking often fall victim to the idea that we’re more advanced than our predecessors, that only now are LGBTQ citizens being welcomed with open arms, that we modern folks are who are finally realizing how gender and sexuality don’t always line up in a rigid black and white definition, that all of this is new, particularly in post-19th century North America. That’s not accurate. (And anyone who thinks queer lives were never accepted until now never looked in a history book, quite frankly. We’re here, we’re queer, we’ve been here and queer for many a year, m’dear.)
Everyone should just go read that entire post, because it’s full of wonderful insights. She wrote it about her book, Bitter Springs, about two gay men in 19th century Texas – a most excellent read.
My point is this: I’m going to keep writing positive, affirming, happy, loving stories about my LBGTQ community, because we have happy endings, too. We, as my friend Lex did, dream of love stories we can recognize. Our struggles are real, and sometimes dire, but we, too, deserve to read warm-fuzzy, sappy, goofy, loving romances we can see ourselves in.
It is just a moment of happiness for me to read these beautiful letters, and to feel that I’ve perhaps captured some of the same emotions in my book.
From Gilbert & Gordon’s letters:
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…
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,
From Right Here Waiting’s Benjamin & Peter’s letters:
I’ll see you soon, my love. I cannot wait to hold you and kiss your face and hear you tell me everything you’ve been up to while I’ve been gone. I love you.
All my love, always.
My darling P-,
I can’t think of anything else to write except how I miss you and think of you all the time and I’m really trying to not be miserable and yesterday I actually laughed for the first time since you’ve been gone. I miss you and I love you.
All my love, darling, every last bit of it.