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The incredible tale of two gay men who exchanged hundreds of love letters during World War II

'Most queer people burned their letters during that time because they were terrified of being discovered,' director Andrew Vallentine shared.

The incredible tale of two gay men who exchanged hundreds of love letters during World War II
Cover Image Source: Instagram | lettermenfilm

Two soldiers desperately in love but torn apart by war exchanged over 600 letters during their time in the military. Gordon Bowsher and Gilbert Bradley were separated in 1939 when Bradley was drafted into the British Army. Throughout World War II they wrote each other love letters, an incredible risk at the time. Homosexuality in Britain was against the law until 1967 and they could have been court-martialled and executed if they were found out, according to ITV.


The men's romantic correspondence lasted between the years of 1938 and 1941 and the letters unbelievably survived the passage of time. Despite the fact that the two went their separate ways after the war, Bradley kept the letters safe throughout his life. They were discovered after he died in 2008. According to NBC News, their love story did not extend beyond the war as Bradley told Bowsher he fell in love with another man in Scotland. However, they still remained in touch until they stopped writing to each other in 1945.


Now their story is being told through Andrew Vallentine in his short film The Letter Men, starring Garrett Clayton as Bradley and Matthew Postlethwaite as Bowsher. The short film premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and is now vying for a 2023 Academy Award. The filmmaker knew he was the perfect person to make this movie after learning of the couple's letters in 2017. “Being a gay filmmaker, combined with my love for World War II history, I knew I had to tell this story,” the director and co-writer of the film, said. He added, “I think it’s important that we tell our own stories. That doesn’t always necessarily need to happen, but in this case, I’m happy that it was.” 


Vallentine co-wrote the script with his husband, Danny Vallentine, and he also ensured that most of the cast and crew identified as LGBTQ+. The writers made sure to use the exact words from Bradley and Bowsher’s letters. Interestingly enough, Bowsher once wrote during the hard days of World War II: “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 filmmaker also made it a point to focus on the love between the two men. “In a lot of LGBTQ+ cinema, we tell our worst stories, some of the worst things that have happened to us from over the years,” he said. “In The Letter Men, we didn’t explore hate crimes, we didn’t explore people being shunned for being in love. We really just told the story of these two men in love.” 


Instinct Magazine points out that the former couple's letter is believed to be the largest collection of queer love letters from World War II. "So many horrible things happened to LGBTQ people during that time, and the fact that Gilbert kept all of Gordon’s letters was a testament to the love that they had for one another. So, when an opportunity like this presents itself, when we’re able to look into what these gay men were going through during that time, it’s important to speak to that and share as much as we possibly can," the director told the magazine. 


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