Around 1980, the war in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, was at its strongest. Roads were kept open by the white government but the 'guerrillas' owned most of the land. The whites were told that it wasn't safe any more and they could not be protected from this colony. The whites were advised to move out, as there was a risk of death. By 1979 only two men remained Fr. David Gibbs and John Bradburne.
About John Bradburne
John Bradburne (born in 1921) was an upper-middle class Anglican. He was a Gurkha in the World War 2 with his fellow friend, John Dove. John Dove later became a Jesuit priest and was very close to Bradburne. Though he didn't quite know what he was actually doing. When he was asked the question, ''So what do you do?' he had no real answer. He did a few odd jobs such as: forestry or school mastering. What Bradburne was looking for was God. So in 1947 he became a Roman Catholic. He attempted becoming a priest twice in England and once in Belgium, he failed every time and so gave up. John became close to marrying after this. He did small little things, like being a caretaker for 'The Archbishop of Westminster's' country house. When John was 40 years old he wrote a letter to Fr. John Dove. Bradburne enquired if there was a cave that Fr. Dove knew of, to pray in.
In 1969 a friend of Bradburne's called 'Heather' suggested they went and saw the leper settlement in Mutemwa. This place was in bad condition. The lepers were dirty and hungry; there were barely roofs on their little huts. Even though this very off putting scene stood in front of Bradburne, he said, 'I'm staying'. When Bradburne said this, he really meant it. He wasn't giving up now. So he became the warden of the site. He cared for the lepers so much. He improved the hygiene, and housing and even bathed them and cut the nails of fingers and toes. He also wrote a poem about each one of them and he set up a small church for them.
Three years later, the 'Rhodesian Leprosy Association' didn't like John Bradburne. They had narrow views of their duties and John was doing lots of work, cleaning, helping etc. He was providing one load of bread per leper per week. This was all too much for the RLA. As he continued to do this and said that the lepers were people with names and not livestock, he was expelled form the settlement. John refused and stayed in a tent, then offers a shack with no electricity, water or anything. He was living like a hermit and the war was getting worse. He didn't care about politics; all he cared for were the welfare of the lepers. He was staying put, friends persuaded him to move but he refused.
Ten youths went to John's shack on the 2nd September. They weren't full-blooded guerrillas, and were known as 'mujibhas'. They had come round, because they had been told by a worker that John was a Rhodesian spy (which he was not). The worker probably said this because he was angry with John, as he had told the worker off for stealing rations that were for the lepers. The worker had falsely said this
The guerrillas were now in a dilemma. They had captured Bradburne as a prisoner but had been sent lots of letters saying that he was a good man. If they let him back to Mutemwa he may spread something he had seen, as he had been there long enough. He was questioned aggressively, Bradburne was not concerned but began to pray, the guerrilla commander wasn?t happy.
On Wednesday morning John Bradburne was taken to a main road. John was told to walk forward a few steps and turn around. John knelt down and prayed for a few minutes he showed no sign of fear. As he was standing up he was shot.
John Bradburne had told a priest that he had made three wishes; to serve and live with lepers, die a martyr and buried in Franciscan habit. Franciscan habit was a brown robe. The habit had been taken from the hut for safe keeping by Fr. Davis Gibbs. Having brought it to the funeral it was then forgotten. At the funeral the coffin had three white flowers on it to symbolise the devotion he had made to the trinity. As the funeral proceeded, three drops of blood fell form the bottom of the coffin to the floor. Afterwards the body and coffin were inspected. It was dry though. Then it had been noticed, he hadn't been buried in the habit, so they dressed him in it.
John Bradburne may have been a saint as there were three wishes, three flowers and three drops of blood.
Many people are amazed that John Bradburne was so devoted to people, with the very simple life of poverty and prayer.
By Richard Bennett, Year 8, Presentation College, Reading