Indu Prakas Bannerji was born in Calcutta, India, on 21st August 1884, the son of Chandi Charan and Binoda Bannerji, (née Roy). He was educated at the B.N. College, Bankipur City College and The Metropolitan Institute of Calcutta. For some time he was connected with the Hindu sect, the Sadharan Brahma Samaj of Calcutta, as a lay Hindu preacher and he also taught in schools in India. He was married to Labanya Bannerji (née Lika) and had one son and one daughter. The family home was at 41, Sibnurayan Das Lane, Calcutta.
Before the outbreak of the Great War, he enrolled at The Nebraska State University, from which he graduated in 1914 and after that, he studied as a graduate student at Princeton University in New Jersey, in the Department of Economics. At the same time, he also enrolled at The Princeton Theological Seminary, during the academic year 1914-1915.
Having completed his study, he decided to return to India and as a consequence booked as a third class passenger with The Cunard Steam Ship Company on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool on the first stage of his journey. He purchased his ticket, No. 37585, from Thomas Cook & Son, New York. Leaving Princeton, he arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing. He then had to wait until the early afternoon for her to leave and he would have had had his last view of the New York skyline just after mid-day. This delay in sailing was because the liner had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel, Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April.
Six days out of New York on the afternoon of 7th May, and within sight of the coast of southern Ireland, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20. At that time, she was only about 250 miles away from her Liverpool destination. Indu Bannerji was killed as a result of this action.
As his body was never recovered from the sea and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. He was aged 30 years.
When nothing was heard of him after the sinking, a Mr. E.J. Beck of the National Indian Association wrote from London to Princeton University, to confirm that he had actually left on the
Lusitania. His letter stated: -
We have been expecting Mr. Indu Prakas Bannerji here for the last week. On enquiring at the Cunard office we understand that his name is on their list as having booked his passage on the “Lusitania” and that his name is not amongst the survivors. We therefore fear that he is amongst those who were lost.
I should be very grateful to you if you would kindly inform me whether he really sailed on that boat, or whether for any reason he may have postponed leaving.
If, as we fear, he had been lost, I should be obliged if you would kindly let me have a note of what he did in your University so that we may mention it in our magazine as he was a member of our Association. A copy of the Indian Magazine and Review is sent by the same post.
The sad news that Mr. Bannerji was in fact a victim of the Lusitania’s
sinking was communicated to Mr. Beck by return, by an official at Princeton University with details of his studies and also commented: -
Mr. Bannerji was well known and highly respected here. He sailed on the Lusitania on her ill fated voyage. One of his fellow Hindu students here urged him not to sail. However, he did sail. Mr. Bannerji’s name has been printed in American newspapers in the list of those who were lost.
He was a man for whom I had a high admiration, and I had hoped very much for his return here. His tragic death merely accentuates our horror of the damnable wickedness that destroys innocent men, women and children in the Lusitania disaster.
On 24th July 1915, Cunard’s office in Liverpool received a letter re-routed from Indu Bannerji’s father Chandi, in Calcutta asking if his son had had an insurance policy. Cunard was unable to answer this question.
Cunard Records, Princeton Theological Seminary Archives, Princeton University Archives, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/7, UniLiv D92/2/281, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer.
Copyright © Peter Kelly