A thousand salutes to Lieutenant Leo Gradwell!

Lt Leo Gradwell

Lt Leo Gradwell

‘Are you happy in the Navy?’, this was the signal passed to a neighbouring vessel by Lt Leo Joseph Gradwell during a German air raid. An Oxbridge barrister, adept in six languages, he was not quite the man one would imagine fighting the best German warships with only a yacht sailing certificate. Captain of one of the British merchant ships of the ‘scattered’ PQ17 convoy, he had a Times Handy Atlas to stay alive after being ordered to disperse at the lurking threat of the the Nazi warship Tirpitz. PQ17: well, it’s obviously an intriguing code name though quite a historic one.  PQ17 was the code named convoy containing British and American ammunition, weapons and aid that were sent to the Russians  to prevent the unstoppable Germans from capturing Moscow; crossing the hell rough Arctic ocean. Dating back to the venerable Second War, PQ17 Arctic Convoy Disaster has been tagged one of the most infamous naval disasters in the history of warfare. This may seem to have no connection to that of an 18-year old prat’s life. Self-confessedly, even I would have been in the dark about PQ17,  like most other people, had I not stumbled upon the documentary broadcast on the BBC, presented by the legendary, albeit controversial, Jeremy Clarkson.

Time to draw the connection.

Since the last time on July the 6th I had sailed through the tempest, the sea has not been gentle. In the interim, I have made visits to a dodgy cancer research institute, risked my life sitting duck right on the face of blazing incoming traffic in a poorly engineered tuk-tuk, avoided fire scares and technical failures by a whisker on the deteriorating Kolkata Metro service, practised tuning the taanpura (a drone like musical instrument used in Indian classical music) twenty times a day and done music and studies (as usual), not mentioning the most striking though untoward incident among all the above mentioned.  Adrija Kundu (endearingly called Pinky), my six-year elder aunt had been diagnosed with one of the most dreaded diseases – aplastic anaemia months ago. Recovery was on the charts though on the backdrop of intermittent visits to a cancer research institute in Kolkata. Driven by destiny the aplastic anaemia took shape into lymphoblastic leukaemia. Things were not looking so well. Almost onto the second week of August, burdened with a nauseating anxiety of the UOL results, it was like roaming on a vest and a pair of trousers on the Siachen Glacier. Come the 13th of August – the unlucky 13th, it was like a bomber tearing apart a ship. My dear aunt who had been a friend, a musical companion had breathed her last. It was as if the Big Bang happened right front of my eyelids freezing the cosmos to a standstill. Desperate to convey the ghastly news, I called my uncle. Having conveyed the news while him still taxiing on the runway, it was frenzy. Staying awake a whole horrendous night and travelling a 130 kilometers to my hometown Burdwan at midnight, witnessing tradegy ripping apart a family, it has been a nightmare. May her soul rest in peace.

14th of August: D-day, the date I had been waiting for months had lost its fear factor in the mist of sorrow. Examination results seemed paltry for I realised humans are mere puppets carrying aspirations all controlled by the three Moirai. However, I made it with IR1011 and scraped through FN1024. Pass or fail, it was all the same. Rushing would be pointless. Dazed and directionless, I proposed to take a transfer to BSc in International Relations. Everybody had given their nod though I presume not seriously. But my parents did. Akin to a reflex action and almost guided by the sixth sense, I had already  lodged a transfer request at the Student Portal.  As frantic as a disturbed convoy of ants, I made calls to the Student Advice Centre in London, often. Yes, the answer came indeed, in the positive. I would soon be a student of BSc in International Relations, the arena I have been dreaming for the last year and a half, all thanks to UOL and the LSE. What may never have materialised into reality just did in days.  Connecting back to Lt. Gradwell, I have learnt a lesson. The man who stayed as calm as the Buddha, the person who thought of heading further north towards the North Pole in a shipping trailer cutting through the ice, the man who innovated to use white laundry sheets to camouflage against the enemy – the unsung hero who made it to the Russian port of Archangel, to deliver the consignment against the odds.

However awful and disadvantageous  the situation may be, there has to be a way out, a solution. True effort must be put in before finally leaving it before destiny. Instead of getting intimidated by untoward incidents, it may just be possible to camouflage and deceive the danger itself, as has been shown by heroes like Lt. Gradwell, Oscar Schindler and many more. Finally all things coming to a settle, I am all set to explore my dream arena of International Relations.

Can’t wait!



Budhaditya is transferring from the BSc Accounting and Finance to the BSc International Relations. He is studying by distance learning in Kolkata, India. 

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