Guernsey Press

'The Germans will never get me,' said Fred... and they didn't

The Germans blew his legs off in the Battle of Cambrai – and then blew his second set up in the Second World War. Yet Private Frederick James Mahy lived a full and useful life, raising a large family, working on property and in greenhouses andusing ingenious methods of getting around, using his fists 'almost as legs'. As the island commemorates the brave men who fought with the RGLI, Nick Le Messurier talks to Fred's daughter Brenda about her extraordinary father


WHEN Frederick Mahy said goodbye to his wife Anne-Marie as he left his home at Prospect Terrace in the early summer of 1917 and set off to war with the newly-formed Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, neither of them would have guessed how much the next few months would change their lives.

For quarryman Private 1260 Frederick James Mahy, then aged 28 and a father of two, would see action at the Battle of Cambrai with his fellow islanders – and would lose both his legs.

The exact details of how this happened are sketchy – Fred's daughter Brenda Bougourd says that he spoke little about his time in battle – but it is believed that a German shell explosion blew off one of his legs and he was hit again while on a stretcher being carried to hospital.

The chances of survival for someone so badly injured in the terrible conditions of the First World War were not great. Often, in spite of the skill of the medical staff, infection would set in and there were no antibiotics to combat it.

But Fred Mahy did survive and he came back to Guernsey to his young family and, even without legs, managed to live life to the full. He worked in greenhouses growing tomatoes, and he and French-born Anne-Marie (Brenda says that the family always called her Hannah) went on to have six more children, of whom Brenda, born in 1930, is the only survivor. Their youngest child, John, was born in 1933.

'Dad worked on the property where we'd moved, at Hazel View, Rousse. We had greenhouses and mum grew tomatoes and dad used to sit on a box. He used to start to trim the tomato plants as high as he could reach and then mum used to finish off. He did all the digging in the garden and as children we did the planting of the potatoes and he followed and covered them with ground.

'He used to go around in one of the sacks like they use for the potatoes and mum used to double them over and he used to slip into it and put his belt around and then he used to move by using his hands, his knuckles, on the ground and he could go some speed. He used his fists almost as a leg.'

Even though he came back from the war with no legs, he was not one to complain, says Brenda. 'Not really. He was a good father, not bad-tempered.'

'I have fond memories of my father. What he must have gone through. He still didn't show too much to any of us. It was only really when the weather was cold he had so much pain and you used to see him holding his stumps.'

OUR Guernsey's Finest Hour campaign was set up by the newspaper to help the RGLI Charitable Trust's appeal to raise £30,000 for the memorials.

You can donate in two ways, either directly at Lloyds Bank or by sending a cheque to Chris Oliver, co-founder of the RGLI Charitable Trust.

Donations should be made to Lloyds Bank, St Peter Port, quoting sort code 30-93-73, account number 32700168 and The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Charitable Trust. Cheques should be made payable to The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry Charitable Trust and posted to the RGLI Charitable Trust, Les Emrais, Ruette des Emrais, Castel, GY5 7YF, tel. 251683.

Inclusion on our Roll of Honour is optional. If you want your reason for donating to appear on the roll, which is updated every few days and appears regularly in the newspaper and permanently on our website, please either email or include a note if sending a cheque, using no more than 30 words for your dedication.

More details of our Guernsey's Finest Hour campaign appear on our website at

If you have a story for us about the RGLI please contact

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.