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Forbidden love: The WW2 letters between two men - BBC News
Love letters written during World War Two and discovered in a trunk in Brighton reveal a forbidden relationship between two men.

While on military training during World War Two, Gilbert Bradley was in love. He exchanged hundreds of letters with his sweetheart - who merely signed with the initial “G”. 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. The letters, which emerged after Mr Bradley’s death in 2008, are therefore unusual and shed an important light on homosexual relationships during the war. What do we know about this forbidden love affair?

Wednesday January 24th 1939

My darling,

… 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,

G.

Information gleaned from the letters indicate Mr Bradley was a reluctant soldier. He did not want to be in the Army, and even pretended to have epilepsy to avoid it. His ruse did not work, though, and in 1939 he was stationed at Park Hall Camp in Oswestry, Shropshire, to train as an anti-aircraft gunner.

He was already in love with Gordon Bowsher. The pair had met on a houseboat holiday in Devon in 1938 when Mr Bowsher was in a relationship with Mr Bradley’s nephew. Mr Bowsher was from a well-to-do family. His father ran a shipping company, and the Bowshers also owned tea plantations. When war broke out a year later he trained as an infantryman and was stationed at locations across the country.

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…

But life as a homosexual in the 1940s was incredibly difficult. Gay 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.

The letters, which emerged after Mr Bradley’s death in 2008, are rare because most homosexual couples would get rid of anything so incriminating, says gay rights activist Peter Roscoe. In one letter Mr Bowsher urges his lover to “do one thing for me in deadly seriousness. I want all my letters destroyed. Please darling do this for me. Til then and forever I worship you.”

Mr Roscoe says the letters are inspiring in their positivity. “There is a gay history and it isn’t always negative and tearful,” he says. “So many stories are about arrests - Oscar Wilde, Reading Gaol and all those awful, awful stories. "But despite all the awful circumstances, gay men and lesbians managed to rise above it all and have fascinating and good lives despite everything.”

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.

But was this a love story with a happy ending?

Probably not. At one point, Mr Bradley was sent to Scotland on a mission to defend the Forth Bridge. He met and fell in love with two other men. Rather surprisingly, he wrote and told Mr Bowsher all about his romances north of the border. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Mr Bowsher took it all in his stride, writing that he “understood why they fell in love with you. After all, so did I”.

Although the couple wrote throughout the war, the letters stopped in 1945.

However, both went on to enjoy interesting lives.Mr 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 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. Sir Paul was exposed after some “indiscreet letters” were discovered.Mr Bradley moved to Brighton and died in 2008. A house clearance company found the letters and sold them to a dealer specialising in military mail.

The letters were finally bought by Oswestry Town Museum, when curator Mark Hignett was searching on eBay for items connected with the town. He bought just three at first, and says the content led him to believe a fond girlfriend or fiancé was the sender. There were queries about bed sheets, living conditions - and their dreams for their future life together. When he spotted there were more for sale, he snapped them up too - and on transcribing the letters for a display in the museum, Mr Hignett and his colleagues discovered the truth. The “girlfriend” was a boyfriend.

The revelation piqued Mr Hignett’s interest - he describes his experience as being similar to reading a book and finding the last page ripped out: “I just had to keep buying the letters to find out what happened next.” 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,” he says. “There was even the possibility that gay soldiers could have been shot.”

Work on a book is already under way at the museum, where the letters will also go on display. Perhaps most poignantly, one of the letters contains the lines: “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.”

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Centrefire Semi-Automatic Pistol with Stock from Germany dated about 1899 on display at the Royal Armouries in Leeds

The Mauser C96 “Broomhandle” had become very fashionable and the Mauser was most advanced and expensive. Such weapons were used by the Boers in South Africa, this one being seized by the Royal Scots Fusiliers.  The wooden holster-stock has been carved with ’R.S. Fusiliers, Boer War, 1899-1900-01-02’ set around a South African Republic coin.

The coin is the Krugerrand named after the man on it, Paul Kruger the third President of the South African Republic and famous for his opposition to the British Empire during the Second Boer War. He was a controversial figure not just for fighting the Empire but also for his treatment of Black Africans in the Republic

John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
“The Black Brunswicker” (1860)
Oil on canvas
Pre-Raphaelite
Located in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, England

The painting was inspired by the exploits of the Black Brunswickers, a German volunteer corps of the Napoleonic Wars, during the Waterloo campaign and by the contrasts of black broadcloth and pearl-white satin in a moment of tender conflict.

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The Rosetta Stone: Part 1

We’re kicking off the New Year with a topic that’s been a very long time coming, not to mention critically important to several academic fields! (for reasons we’ll delve into later). 

Carved from granodiorite during the Hellenistic period, the Rosetta Stone is thought to have been displayed within a temple in nearby Sais, and subsequently moved during the Christian or medieval period. Discovered in 1799 during the Egyptian campaign amidst the Napoleonic wars by a French soldier, the Rosetta stone had been selected to help army engineers reinforce the walls of Fort Julian located near the town of Rashid (Rosetta). But a sharp-eyed soldier noticed the stone had carvings on it, and a long line of generals and scientists were informed of the chance discovery. After the defeat of the French by the British in 1801, the stone was spirited away to the British Museum, where it still remains to this day.

Measuring just over 1 meter tall, 75 centimeters wide, and 28 centimeters thick, even though the stone is a whopping 1680 pounds, it is actually only a fragment of a much larger stele. While no additional fragments from this stele have ever been found, none of the 3 main inscriptions on the portion we do have are complete, suggesting other pieces once existed.

Priam arrives at Achilles’ shelter to ransom the body of his son Hector.  The youth facing him has been variously identified as an attendant or the disguised Hermes.  Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, attributed to the Briseis Painter; ca. 480 BCE.  Thought to have been found at Vulci; now in the British Museum.

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British war heroes come face-to-face with German Tiger tank drivers
British tank men Ernest Slarks and Dr Ken Tout have met two of their former enemies, Wilhelm Fischer and Waldemar Pliska (pictured together), after they fought against each other 72 years ago.

The Bovington Tank Museum’s new Tiger exhibit opens today, and the museum has brought together veterans of both sides to talk about and share their experiences from their vehicles. 

I don’t usually post stuff by the Daily Mail, but this was a good article to read. 

By the way, they are still in discussion with the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany, about borrowing their Sturmtiger. For now though, War Gaming has stepped in to digitally recreate the Sturmtiger for people to view with VR. 

This dazzling silver gorget was made in England in 1775-76 for an officer of the 60th, or Royal American Regiment. This British army unit was originally raised in Pennsylvania and surrounding colonies during the French & Indian War. Elements of the corps served in many campaigns of the American Revolution.

Gorgets were originally pieces of armor that were designed to protect the throat, but by the 18th century they had evolved into decorative pieces indicating rank.

During the American Revolution officers would routinely leave their gorgets back in their quarters or in their bags while on campaign. The officer who chose to wear one while on campaign would attract a great deal of enemy attention.

Fun fact: George Washington tried to secure a commission in the 60th Royal Americans after the French & Indian War. This is in the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution.

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Instagram photo by National Army Museum • Aug 8, 2016 at 1:26pm UTC
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Crimean Tom!

Great to see Crimean Tom from our collection on @bbcnews “When felines turn hero” for ‪#‎InternationalCatDay‬! Also known as Sevastopol Tom, he saved #British and #French #troops from starvation during the Crimean war, by leading them to food he could find.

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Officers Uniform and Sword of the Light Dragoons dated around the 1760′s on display at the National Army Museum in London

In 1755 eleven troops of Light Dragoons were added to regiments of Dragoon Guards and Dragoons. The success of the experiment of a regiment of Light Dragoons in March 1759. 

The helmet belonged to Captain George Ainslie of the 15th (or the King’s) Regiment of Light Dragoons. In 1760, during the Seven Years’ War, the regiment and Ainslie were part of the Anglo-Hanoverian force fighting the French in Germany (specifically Hesse). After the battle the regiment presented King George with 16 French colours captured by the regiment. They suffered heavily though wit 125 of the 185 allied casualties coming from their regiment.

The coat was worn by Colonel John Holroyde, 1st Earl of Sheffield of the 21st Light Dragoons (Royal Forresters). They were raised in April of 1760 and disbanded in 1763.

Photographs taken by myself

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Uniform of Colonel John Wilkie of the 10th (The Prince of Wale’s Own) Royal Regiment of Light Dragoons (Hussars) dated around 1854 on display at the National Army Museum in London

On 17 April 1855 Wilkes’ unit arrived in the Crimea, having been sent from from India, to replace the cavalry lost in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava along with the 12th Lancers. In the Crimea they were part of the Siege of Sevastopol and the Battle of Eupatoria in the same year they arrived.

Photographs taken by myself

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Basket-Hilted Broad Sword from the 42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch, dated about 1758 on display at the Black Watch Castle and Museum in Perth

This pattern of sword was supplied to enlisted soldiers within the Highland regiments in the British Army during the 18th Century. They would be supplied by the colonels of the regiment who would make back their money from the soldiers pay. The sword was done in the traditional Claybeg style of the Highland Clans which became known as Claymores in English. 

These swords separated the irregular Highlanders from the regular British Army regiments of foot as they had a romantic image of the Highland Charge behind them from the Jacobite Risings. During the Seven Years War the British Army needed irregulars to fight against the French and their Native allies in America. Both William Pitt the Elder and General James Wolfe (who witnessed the Highland Charge at Culloden) agreed the Highland peoples of Scotland would be ideal. Wolfe saying:

I should imagine that two or three independent Highland Companies might be of use. They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.”

Wolfe was not alone in his disregard of the Highland peoples with both French and British officers describing them as “Savages

At the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1758, this sword was used by a soldier in the Black Watch. After running out of ammunition they charged the French lines, swords drawn and despite some initial success they were repelled by Montcalm’s bayonet charge with his grenadiers. Out of 1,000 soldiers around 647 were killed.

Photographs taken by myself