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Remembered Today:

Prince de Mahé aka Charles Digby Williams



An entry in the London Gazette of 9th August 1914 records the metamorphosis of a Captain Charles Digby Williams of the Royal Artillery Special Reserve from Glamorgan, Wales, into a French aristocratic Prince;

The name of Captain and Honorary Major H. H. Charles Mahe de Chenal de la Bourdonnais, Prince de Mahe, is as now stated, and not Charles Digby Williams, as published in the Gazette of 4th September, 1914.


Intrigued as to who were the Mahe de Chenal de la Bourdonnais, [A] where was the principality of Mahe, [B]  and how did Charles Digby Williams become a prince, [C] I joined members asking the same question;  https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/55721-lieutenant-colonel-the-prince-de-mahé/ 




Charles Digby Williams was born October 1875 in Cardiff, Glamorgan, [1] the son of master mariner, Henry Charles Williams. [2] In 1899 Charles Digby Williams married Jessie Ethel Wright, the daughter of steel company owner, Sir John Roper Wright. [3] Charles Digby Williams occupation is recorded as Gentleman.


Charles Digby Williams commissioned into the Royal Artillery Militia in June 1895, serving with The Glamorgan Artillery (Western Division). [4] He as promoted to Lieutenant June 1897 [5] and Captain November 1899. [6]


When the Territorial Force was formed in 1908, Officers of the Militia were appointed Officers of the Special Reserve of Officers. Captain Charles D Williams became an officer in the Special Reserve of the Royal Field Artillery. [7] He was granted the rank of Honorary Major in December 1911. [8]


On the outbreak of war, aged 39, Captain and Honorary Major Charles Digby Williams was embodied as a Captain in the Army. [9] He entered  France 28th August 1914, qualifying for the 1914 Star as a Train Conducting Officer. [10]


The London Gazette of 9th October 1914 recorded a name change for Charles Digby Williams.  [11]




Charles Digby Williams was now His Highness Charles Mahé de Chenal de la Bourdonnais, Prince de Mahé . The Army List recorded his name as de Mahé. H.H.,C.M. de C. de la B. Prince, effective from 5th September 1914. [12] He is shown as serving with 2A Reserve Brigade RFA which was based at Preston, UK. [13]


In December the London Gazette detailed the appointment of de Mahe as a Railway Transport Officer (Graded for purposes of pay as Staff Captains.)  [14] The work as an Officer on the Lines of Communication was outlined in the diary of de Mahe's Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Dunsterville. [15] [16]


It would seem de Mahe had aspirations. When  Lt. Col. Dunsterville was posted, de Mahe lobbied to be the new CO.  Dunsterville's diary records; [17]


"Such a squabbling over seniority to-day in my office with a view to succeeding me. First of all Major H.H., the Prince de Mahé came to see me before I was out of bed to point out that he was senior to Fernie. Fernie was a Lieutenant in the King's Dragoon Guards and is now a temporary Major in the Yeomanry - each thinks he is senior to the other, and as I know nothing about territorials, volunteers, militia, yeomanry and Special Reserve I shall have to send it on to the War Office to settle. They both lost their tempers violently and I had to keep the peace".


De Mahe did not receive his promotion, he would serve at the Headquarters for Embarkation Duties as Assistant Military Landing Officer (Graded for purposes of pay as a Staff Captain). [18] In January 1916 the Army List records Captain de Mahe H.H.,C.M. de C. de la B. Prince serving with 1 A Reserve Brigade RFA [19]  The Brigade was located in Fenham Barracks, Newcastle upon Tyne, No 1 Depot Royal Field Artillery. De Mahe was promoted to Major in March 1916, [20]  continuing to serve with 1 A Reserve Brigade RFA till November 1916. [21]


In March 1917 he was appointed to Commands and Staff as a staff officer 3rd Grade. [22] His staff work was brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for War in March 1917, when de Mahe was Mentioned in Despatches, being gazetted as an acing Lt. Col. [23] He was promoted to Temporary Lt-Col in December 1917 [24]


In January 1918,  Major His Highness Charles Mahe de C. .de la Bourdonnais, Prince De Mahe was awarded the Russian Order of St. Stanislas, 2nd Class "for distinguished services rendered during the course of the campaign" [25]


Temporary Lt. Col. De Mahe would go on to serve with Anti-Aircraft Command in Leeds. [26] Leeds Anti-Aircraft command was part of the Northern Command, and consisted of an AA Company RGA at Leeds and Halifax. [27] His services with Anti-Aircraft Command were recognised by the Secretary of War by being Mentioned in Despatches. [28]


De Mahe's was awarded the Order of the British Empire in May 1919 for "valuable services rendered in connection with the war". [29]


On the 28th August  1920,  His Highness Charles Mahe de Chenal de la Bourdonnais, Prince de Mahe, reverted to being Charles Digby Williams. Lt Col CD Williams resigned his commission, retaining his rank. [30]






In the six years from Charles Digby Williams entering France [10], he had become a Prince [11], been awarded the OBE [29], the Order of St. Stanislas, 2nd Class [25], and was twice Mentioned in Despatches [23][28], before ceasing to be a Prince [30] and resigning his commission. [30]


De Mahe's name seems to have exercised the minds of the Army Medal Office as they contemplated engraving H. H. Charles Mahe de Chenal de la Bourdonnais, Prince de Mahe, on his war medals. His MIC [31] records two versions of his name;(A) When decoration was earned -> de  Mahé (Prince) and (B) Present situation -> H.H C.M. de Cde la B.




His Officers file records his name as Major The Prince de Mahe. [32]


Despite the entry in the London Gazette,  Charles Digby Williams, continued his persona as the Prince de Mahe.



Prince de Mahe opening Plymouth Albion RFC's new stand 1923 [33]


The Prince de Mahe was involved in local politics in Devon, opened events and was active with the local community in Totnes. His son, John Bryant Digby, born 1902 [34] , would adopt the name Prince John Bryant Digby de Mahé. [35] When Charles Digby Williams died on the 7th April 1934, his name was recorded as Mahé De Chenal De La Bourdonnais, Charles D. (Prince). [36]


[1] Births Registered October, November, December, 1875

[2] 1871 Census of Wales

[3] Glamorganshire, Wales, Anglican Baptisms, Marriages and Burials

[4] London Gazette Publication date: 17 December 1895 Issue: 26690 Page: 7301

[5] London Gazette Publication date: 25 June 1897 Issue: 26866 Page: 3511

 [6] London Gazette Publication date: 24 October 1902 Issue: 27487 Page: 6740

[7] London Gazette Publication date: 25 August 1908 Issue: 28171 Page: 6221

[8] London Gazette Publication date: 15 December 1911 Issue: 28562 Page: 9451

[9] London Gazette Publication date: 4 September 1914 Issue: 28892 Page: 7001

[10] World War I Service Medal and Award Rolls WO 329 / Officers & Nurses (Miscellaneous Units) / 1914 Star Medal and Award Rolls Train Supporting Officers (Supp)

[11] London Gazette Publication date: 9 October 1914 Supplement: 28934 Page: 812

[12] Army List November 1914

[13] Army List November 1914 Army List November 1914 - Column 584

[14] London Gazette Publication date: 18 December 1914 Supplement: 29013 Page: 10897

[15] http://www.gwpda.org/Dunsterville/Dunsterville_1914.html

[16] http://www.gwpda.org/Dunsterville/Dunsterville_1915.html

[17] The Diaries of General Lionel Dunsterville 1911-1922 - March 6th 1915

[18] The London Gazette Publication date: 3 December 1915 Supplement: 29392 Page: 12170

[19] Army List January 1916

[20] London Gazette Publication date: 28 March 1916 Supplement: 29527 Page: 3416

[21] Army List November 1916

[22] London Gazette Publication date: 27 February 1917 Supplement: 29965 Page: 2097

[23] London Gazette Publication date: 30 March 1917 Issue: 30005 Page: 107

[24] London Gazette Publication date: 27 November 1917 Supplement: 30405 Page: 12493

[25] London Gazette Pubication date: 11 January 1918 Supplement: 30476 Page: 829

[26] Medal Information Card WO 372/5/144318

[27] Farndale: History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Western Front 1914-18Annex 3 - page 396

[28] London Gazette Publication date: 18 February 1919 Supplement: 31193 Page: 2569

[29] London Gazette Publication date: 30 May 1919 Supplement: 31377 Page: 6990

[30] London Gazette Publication date: 27 August 1920 Supplement: 32033 Page: 8840

[31] Medal Information Card WO 372/5/144318

[32] Officers Services Papers WO 339/34703

[33] County: Devon, England; Western Morning News 03 September 1923

[34] 1911 Census

[35] [http://www.thepeerage.com/p30162.htm#i301611

[36] Deaths Registered in April, May and June 1934


[A] Mahé de La Bourdonnais

Bertrand-François Mahé, comte de La Bourdonnais (11 February 1699 – 10 November 1753) was a French naval officer and administrator, in the service of the French East India Company. His name was given to the main island (Mahé Island) of the Seychelles archipelago by Lazare Picault 1742 in his honour while he was governor of Mauritius.  [A^1]


A grandson of Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais was Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795–December 1840) a French chess master, possibly the strongest player in the early 19th century. La Bourdonnais was forced to earn his living as a professional chess player after squandering his fortune on ill-advised land deals. The most famous match series in that time was played in London, against Alexander McDonnell in 1834. Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais died penniless in London in December 1840, having been forced to sell all of his possessions, including his clothes, to satisfy his creditors. [A^2]


[A^1] Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais - Wikipedia

[A^2] Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais - Wikipedia

[A^3] Association des Amis de Mahé de La Bourdonnais - Le site de l'Association (labourdonnais-association.org)



[B] Mahé, Seychelles

Mahé is the largest island (157.3 km²) of Seychelles, lying in the northeast of the Seychellean nation in the Somali Sea part of the Indian Ocean.

The island was named after Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, a French governor of Isle de France (modern-day Mauritius).

Mahé, Seychelles - Wikipedia 




[C] Prince as substantive title

A prince is not necessarily part of a dynastic monarchy. A prince can derive their title from a specific and historical territory. It can be inherited even though family's possession of prerogatives or properties in that territory might be long past., as in the case of the "princedoms" of France's ancien régime (pre French revolution - pre 1789)

Source: Prince - Wikipedia

Edited by ianjonesncl

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A news paper cutting found by knittinganddeath records the "prince de Mahé mentioned in the high society news in some French newspapers in October 1905.


Screen Shot 2021-02-10 at 16.41.15.png


Whether or not this is Charles Digby Williams is not known. Having married a wealthy steel mill owners daughter, and recorded with an occupation of gentleman on the marriage certificate, he could probably afford to indulge with high society and stay at Claridge's Hotel. 

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