The Lascars were actually the seamen or militia men of India origin, who used to serve the British ships under ‘Lascar agreement’. The said agreements gave more power to the ship owners, so that the Lascars could be transferred from one ship to another and they could retain the Lascars in the service up to three years at a time. In those days, the term ‘Lascar’ was generally used to refer the Indian servants, specially engaged by the British military personnel. However, specifically it meant the local people who were at the wheel or on the deck of the merchant ships.
The Lascar War Memorial Monument, situated at the southern end of the Maidan, on Napier Road, Hastings, is near to the Prinsep Ghat. Built by the Shipping and Mercantile Companies, the Monument was dedicated to the memory of the 896 Lascars of undivided Bengal and Assam, who fought and died for the British Navy during the First World War 0f 1914-1918.
The Lascar Memorial was designed by William Ingram Keir, who was the designer of Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He was the man, who replaced the damaged spire of the St. Paul’s Cathedral, after it was badly damaged in a devastating earthquake in 1934. For the design of the Lascar War Memorial, he was awarded Rs 500 in an international contest in 1920. The 100 feet high Lascar Monument, tallest after the 157 feet high Ochterlony Monument , was unveiled by Lord Lytton, the then Governor of Bengal on the 6th day of February 1924.
The monument, built in Indo-Mughal style, is a four-sided dignified column, having designs of projected galley on each side. It is crowned with four small minarets and a large gilt central dome. The façade is ornamented with wavy lines beneath the projected balcony. The inside of the Memorial is approachable through a massive doorway on the Northern side. In the interior section, there are three plaques, just below the inscription “Lascar Memorial.” One of the plaques is related to the unveiling of the memorial by Lord Lytton, the then Governor of Bengal, on the 6th day of February 1924. The second plaque intimates about the erection of the memorial by the shipping and mercantile community of India to commemorate the fallen 896 seamen of Bengal, Assam and upper India, who lost their lives in the great war of 1914-1918. The third smaller plaque tells about the recent renovation and the lighting arrangement of the Lascar War Memorial.
After independence, the existence of the Monument was probably forgotten. It was neglected for about half a century and became derelict and overgrown with wild vegetation. At last the fortunate moment for the ignored monument came in a morning of 1994, when Commodore B K Mohanti spotted the gorgeous structure during his morning walk. He felt its importance and took the initiative to arrange for its renovation. After passing through thousand hurdles of official paraphernalia, the renovation and arrangements of lightning were completed in December 1994 and A L Dias, the then Governor of West Bengal switched on the illumination on the 7th day of December 1994, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of INS Netaji Subhas.
The Lascar Memorial in Calcutta is a restricted place, opened for the public everyday from 5 to 7 in the evening. The Memorial is maintained by Indian Navy and every year the National Navy Day of India is celebrated in the venue.
Location of Lascar War Memorial