3 John Bradburne

John Bradburne

John Randal Bradburne MC (1921, Skirwith, Cumbria - 5 September 1979, near Mutoko, Zimbabwe) was a lay member of the Order of St Francis, a poet, warden of the Mtemwa leper colony at Mutoko. He was killed by guerrillas and is a candidate for canonization.


Bradburne's father was an Anglican clergyman and he had two brothers and two sisters. He was a cousin of the playwright Sir Terence Rattigan and a distant relation of Lord Soames.


Bradburne was educated at Gresham's, an independent school in Norfolk, from 1934 to 1939. When war broke out, he went straight into the army instead of going on to a university, as he had planned.

War service

Joining the army in 1939, in 1940 he was commissioned into the 9th Gurkha Rifles, a regiment of the Indian Army and found himself in Malaya, facing the Japanese invasion of Malaya. After the fall of Singapore, Bradburne spent a month in the jungle. With another Gurkha officer he tried to sail a sampan to Sumatra, but was shipwrecked. A second attempt succeeded, and he was rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer and returned to Dehra Dun. He then saw active service in Burma, where he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.


After World War II, he stayed at Buckfast Abbey in England and became a Roman Catholic. Soon after, he joined the Secular Order of St Francis, remaining a layman.

A poet, he left behind him six thousand pages of verse.

In Israel, he joined the small "Order of Our Lady of Mount Sion", founded for the conversion of the Jews, and went as a Novice to Louvain, Belgium, for a year. After that, he walked to Rome and lived for a year in the organ loft of the small Church in a mountain village, playing the organ. He then tried to live as a hermit on Dartmoor, then went to the Benedictine Prinknash Abbey, before joining the choir of Westminster Cathedral as a Sacristan. Cardinal Godfrey asked him to be the caretaker of his country house, Hare Street House, in Cambridgeshire.

Bradburne travelled to Rhodesia as a missionary helper, and there Jesuit missionaries introduced him to the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement near Mutoko. He arrived in 1969, went on to become its warden, and remained until his death.

By July 1979, war had come near, and Bradburne's friends were urging him to leave Mutemwa, now in the conflict zone. He insisted he should stay with the lepers. On 7 September 1979, mujibhas abducted him and took him to a guerrilla commander in the Inyanga Mountains, accusing him of being an informer for the Rhodesian security forces, but the commander knew about his work and ordered his release. He set off for Mutemwa at night, but a guerrilla security officer saw him as a security risk and proposed he should go to Mozambique. He refused, saying the lepers needed him, and on 8 September 1979 he was shot dead by the road.

Feature articles on John Bradburne and Mutemwa appeared in England's Sunday Telegraph on 23 April 1989 and on 28 August 1994, the second written by the newspaper's editor, Charles Moore, who had visited Mutemwa.

In July 2001, the Franciscan priest Father Paschal Slevin presented a petition to Archbishop Patrick Fani Chakaipa, Archbishop of Harare for an inquiry into Bradburne's canonisation. Father Slevin commented: "I have no doubt that John died a martyr in his determination to serve his friends, the lepers. If his martyrdom is accepted, his cause for sainthood could go quite quickly".


*"Strange Vagabond of God: a biography of John Bradburne" by Father John Dove (revised edition, 1997)
*"John Bradburne of Mutemwa, 1921-1979" (The John Bradburne Memorial Society)
*" Songs of the Vagabond" by John Bradburne, selected by Professor David Crystal
*"John Bradburne's Mutemwa in Poems and Pictures" (ed. Professor David Crystal and Hilary Crystal)
*"On Eagle's Wings: The Life and Death of John Bradburne" (video)
* [http://www.johnbradburne.com/ johnbradburne.com]
* [http://www.spectator.co.uk/archive/letters/9089/letter-from-zimbabwe.thtml Letter from Zimbabwe] in The Spectator, 30 June 2001
* [http://www.icon.co.za/~host/john/index.htm John Bradburne at icon.co.za]
* [http://www.icon.co.za/~host/john/mutemwa/index.htm Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement and John Bradburne]

External links

* [http://www.icon.co.za/~host/john/jbms/index.htm The John Bradburne Memorial Society]

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