John McCrory writes:
The papers of E.H. Broadbent document his travels as a Christian Brethren missionary through Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from the late nineteenth century to the eve of the Second World War, spanning an era of remarkable change and upheaval.
Two items in this collection have been digitised: EHB/1/1, his typescript journal compiled from original notes, diaries and letters from 1898 to 1939; and EHB/1/2, a handwritten journal detailing his travels in 1899.
Central to these writings are descriptions of his missionary work and life of religious devotion, visiting, living and working among Christian believers who often faced great persecution- either from established churches or the local authorities.
Indeed, the themes of religious and ethnic persecution, and of refugees, are a continual presence in this collection. Travelling through Azerbaijan in 1905, in the wake of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, Broadbent describes the aftermath of a series of massacres against the country’s Armenian Christian population.
Journeying on to Ardebil in Persia, he was spirited away to safety by local Brethren from a hostile mob, intent on intercepting Armenian refugees. Broadbent emerged from hiding two days later:
In the bazaar we saw some excitement, two soldiers were supporting a big man who seemed as though he could not stand. We found it was the Tartar missionary [who had been involved in the Armenian massacres in Baku, and was now inciting the mob in Ardebil], he had been caught stealing from a shop, his hand had been cut off and now these soldiers were taking him round the bazaar, exhibiting the hand and asking rewards for their zeal. (EHB/1/1 p. 95)
Staying in a Jewish household in Odessa in 1907, which was attacked by a Russian mob, he recalled:
Levinsky and I barricaded the doors and windows, his wife and children kneeled in the middle of the floor and prayed, a servant maid hid under a bed and went into hysterics. It seemed as though the thundering blows on the door would break through it and the furniture piled against it, when there was a sudden cry, someone had caught sight of a Jew running down the street and the whole crowd set off in pursuit leaving our house deserted. (EHB/1/1 p. 109)
At times the journal reads like a Boy’s Own adventure story. Whether being rescued from a hijacked train by a detachment of Cossacks in the Caucasus, or facing summary trial as a spy in Slavonia, Broadbent remained implacable in the face of danger, noting such incidents in his journal with casual detachment.
The journals also feature evocative descriptions of some of the great cities in Central Asia, and accounts of the German communities scattered throughout the Russian Empire. In 1935 he journeyed through Soviet Russia with J.W. Laing, who would terrify his Intourist minders by talking his way into the homes of ordinary Russians, interrogating them about their living conditions, and measuring their apartments’ dimensions for his own records.
It is difficult to do justice to the sheer range of subjects covered in these journals, but they stand as a testament to the faith and work of a quite remarkable man.
The journals of E.H. Broadbent can be found here
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