A Life-Long Secret
Despite feeling all of these intense emotions, they had to keep it a secret. Being openly gay would not be decriminalized until The Sexual Offenses Act in 1967. Even then, no one could have gay sex until over the age of 21. The men imagined a world where they could openly tell their family and friends about their relationship, but they knew that it needed to stay behind closed doors. They playfully asked one another to imagine their father’s reactions, but knew it would never come to pass, writing, “The rest of the world has no conception of what our love is.”
Not surprisingly, there were other gay men that were drafted into the army as well. Spending years apart can be lonely, and Gilbert Bradley met and had relationships with two other men during the war when he was stationed in Scotland. He was completely honest about it in his letters to Gordon, as if they had an agreement that what happens in war stays in war. Gordon replied to the news, “(I understand) why they fell in love with you. After all, so did I.”
They wrote to one another from 1939 to 1945, and then, the letters stop. Maybe Gordon could no longer bear to think of Gilbert having affairs with other men, or the hope that they could ever be together was becoming less and less likely as their personal lives were forced to move forward. They put up a good fight, but the war had torn them apart. Too many years. Too many broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, but for years, they were truly waiting for one another.
In one of the letters, Gilbert pleaded with Gordon to destroy the evidence, so that there would be no trace that could possibly incriminate them. For the vast majority of gay men writing letters to one another during that time, they actually did burn the letters. Clearly, though, Gordon and Gilbert valued the memories of their love far more than the risk of getting caught. Nearly 600 letters still existed in his home, and there may have been more at one point in time.
In one of the letters, they write, ‘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.”