Category Archives: Snippets

Snippet: Swimming with Sharks

Hamana Kalili hoped to find an abundance of ulua, a priceless indigenous Hawaiian fish, when he went to check his lines on the morning of June 1, 1926; instead, he found a great white shark measuring twelve-and-a-half feet. Gutting his surprise catch to repurpose all of its parts, Kalili discovered the manō recently enjoyed a lobster, some uluas, and a pair of trunks with B25 sewn on the waistband.

Upon further investigation, he also discovered “the bones of both upper arms, both the bones of each forearm, most all of the bones of the left hand, except the thumb, the top of the head from about the eyes back to and including the bones by which the head connects to the spinal column, and a wad of black hair about three inches long.” It didn’t take long to make the connection with Private William J. Goins, number B25, who had suddenly disappeared beneath the waves at Haleiwa Alii Beach on May 18, 1926.

The news soon spread to Schofield Barracks, where a slightly disbelieving Beatrice immediately jumped in her car. By the time she drove the twenty-four miles to the Kahuku Plantation, only the shark’s jaw hadn’t been cut up yet, all twenty-four inches of it hanging from a tree with a stick clenched between its teeth. Since he already knew Beatrice well, Kalili invited her to stay for the ceremony that the women of the village were performing that evening; after all, a shark as big as the one Kalili caught had to have been someone’s ancestor.

A major part of the Native Hawaiian’s belief system was based on their powerful bond with nature, and this was nowhere clearer than in the concept of ‘aumākua. The lizard, the owl, and especially the shark are often recognized as family guardians, whereby an ancestor takes on the form of an animal upon his death to watch over family members, appearing to them in dreams to offer spiritual guidance. For this reason, the Native Hawaiians neither killed nor ate sharks, and instead of fearing them like most, treated the manō with respect and reverence.

On that day in 1926, Beatrice was introduced to the power of the shark in Hawaiian culture, a theme that featured prominently in her second book, Blood of the Shark, published in December 1936. A male shark became her ‘aumākua, and she was taught a prayer, which told the shark that she was “of his people and that he must obey her.” Beatrice never feared sharks, and she would swim everywhere; George, however, thought she was crazy and always stood on deck with a loaded rifle at the ready.

Snippet: The Pattons on D-Day

On June 6, 1944, as the cross-channel invasion of France was underway, all five members of the Patton family sat huddled around the radio.

The Pattons’ eldest daughter Bee listened in Washington, hoping “dad is on the way to get Johnny [her husband] out of prison camp,” while her sister and mother listened at the family home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Ruth Ellen knew her husband was in Italy with the 69th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, but Beatrice hadn’t heard from George in weeks. His letter urging her not to “get excited when the whistle blows” because he wasn’t “in the opening kick off” wouldn’t arrive for weeks.

George (IV) listened at West Point, hoping his father was in on the fight because he knew it was “hell to be on the side lines” for him.

However, General Patton found himself sitting in a trailer on the British coast—he wouldn’t make it to France with the Third Army until about a month later—writing his son a heartfelt letter on the attributes of leadership.

Continue reading in Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton.

Letter and pictures courtesy of the Library of Congress – Patton Papers.

Snippet: Like birds on a telegraph wire

A gentle knock on the hotel room door awoke Second Lieutenant and Mrs. Patton, who had been married for less than twenty-four hours. In walked Ellen Banning Ayer, the bride’s mother, carrying a rose, followed by the bride’s brothers and sisters carrying the breakfast tray.

The seven Ayer siblings—the first four from the union of Frederick Ayer (1822-1918) and Cornelia Wheaton (1835-1878), and the last three from the union of Frederick and Ellen “Ellie” Banning (1853-1918)—were so devoted to each other that Ellie accused them “of behaving at parties like birds on a telegraph wire.”

George Patton knew that when he married Beatrice Ayer, he married all members of her close-knit family. He loved her parents and siblings “as though they were the nearest people on earth to me,” secure in the knowledge that his wife and children would be well-taken care of when he went to war. Not only did the Ayers influence and support him throughout all the ups and downs of his career, they always brought out the best in him.

Ellen Wheaton Ayer Wood (1859 – 1951)

Ellen was a free-spirited woman who spent six months studying at Les Ruches, a young ladies’ school in Fontainebleau founded by Marie Souvestre—she later founded the Allenswood Academy in England and became a great influence on Eleanor Roosevelt. She continued her education at Radcliffe College, but nursing her mother through her final illness scarred the eighteen-year-old Ellen for life.

Left with a delicate constitution but blessed with the heart of a lion, Ellen married William Wood, a dashing man who transformed her father’s company into the premier textile factory in the world. She survived one tragedy after another—her mother’s illness, the death of two of her four children, and the suicide of her husband—becoming a valuable source of comfort to her sister when Beatrice lost both their parents in the span of one month in 1918 and her husband in 1945.

James “Jamie” Cook Ayer (1862 – 1939)

Jamie was the only Ayer who left the North Shore area, moving to New York after graduating from Harvard to pursue a career in medicine. He was a well-respected surgeon at Bellevue Hospital until management passed him over for a promotion, which should have been his based on seniority. He was never the same after he lost the lawsuit against his former employer, despite continuing to run a successful private practice and becoming quite “distinguished as a painter.”

Married to May Hancock Boyd in 1907, Jamie enjoyed an active life sailing and hunting. He frequently hosted his brother-in-law at Shadowland, his Long Island estate, during the 1910s and 1920s when George participated in the local horse races. Dedicated to his family, Jamie traveled wherever someone needed him, whether Egypt in 1897 or England in 1922.

Charles “Chilly” Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956)

Chilly was a quiet and sensible man who enjoyed the simple life of sitting around the fireplace telling stories. Even though he wanted to go into forestry, he attended Harvard and followed his father into business. A prominent industrialist in the textile and mining business who also ran the family trust with his brother Fred, Chilly was known to be extremely honest and upstanding.

Married to Sara Theodora Ilsley in 1904, the Ayers divided their time between a townhouse on Boston’s Back Bay and Juniper Ridge, their country estate in South Hamilton, where they were prominent members of the Myopia Hunt Club. Chilly was master of the hunt for several years, and both his wife and daughters, who enjoyed being taught by Uncle George, were notable riders. During WWII, Chilly often lent Beatrice a helping hand in South Hamilton and offered an eyewitness account of life on the homefront to George.

Louise Raynor Ayer (1876 – 1955)

Louise never outgrew the shyness caused by the loss of her mother when she was just two years old, and she always preferred a life of simplicity. When she married Donald Gordon—who met Louise tutoring her brother Fred while working his way through Harvard Law School—she settled at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Widowed and left with two young children, she married Conrad Hatheway in 1925, only to be widowed again twelve years later.

Strong of character and sensible like all the Ayers, Louise was the only one of Cornelia’s children still living at home when Beatrice was born, and she became a devoted sister and friend for life. Louise spent most of her time on her farm, educating children about nature and focusing on organic and sustainable food. She left Drumlin Farm to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which continues to run it to this day.

Beatrice Banning Ayer (1886 – 1953)

Frederick “Fred” Ayer (Jr.) (1888 – 1969)

With a long, illustrious list of directorships across various industries and a manager of the Ayers’ trust and the Pattons’ finances, the Harvard graduate was president of Beverly Hospital. As honest as his brother and as courageous as his brother-in-law, Fred was an accomplished equestrian who didn’t shy away from risking life and limb on the polo and hunting field. He married Hilda Proctor Rice, an equally fierce equestrian who never had any problems standing up to her brother-in-law whenever he behaved outrageously.

Not only was he Beatrice’s “joy and delight,” Fred was one of the few people George trusted implicitly and one of his closest friends. Besides his wife, his brother-in-law was the one George asked to come to Heidelberg after his accident in December 1945 and the only other family member present at his funeral. One of the few entrusted with George’s papers, Fred spent many evenings at Green Meadows—the Pattons’ home in South Hamilton, MA, within riding distance of all the siblings—helping Beatrice transcribe the thousands of letters and diary entries.

Katharine “Kay” Ayer (1890 – 1981)

Fun-loving and fashionable Kay was a willing accomplish throughout the Pattons’ courtship and a frequent guest at Army posts until she married Keith Merrill at the outbreak of WWI. She was as helpful to her husband’s career in the Foreign Service as her sister was to George’s in the Army. A graduate of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Kay was always socially engaged—for one, she was a founder of the Planned Parenthood Association of Washington.

A great source of strength to Beatrice and her daughters—especially Little Bee when her husband became a POW—Kay was the glue who held the family together. She took over Avalon, the family estate in Pride’s Crossing, MA, when Frederick and Ellie died, and her home in Washington, DC, became a home away from home for Beatrice during WWII. After George’s death, Keith helped organize his brother-in-law’s papers and helped Beatrice fight the proposed (second) move of the General’s grave at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Pictures taken from the following sources (in order): Before the Colors Fade, Andover Center for History and Culture, Memories of an Unplanned Life, The Button Box, Find a Grave, Private Album, Light and Life.

Snippet – A Magical Place Called Avalon

Thirty miles from Boston, in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, stood the Ayer family’s majestic country home. Avalon was a magical place along the rocky Massachusetts’ North Shore George Patton described as “almost more beautiful than it is possible to imagine.” Completed in 1906 in a mere eight months, Avalon was named after the little town on Catalina Island, California, and the mythological place where King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, was forged.

The entrance foyer of Avalon – Beverly Public Library

The ten thousand square foot Renaissance Revival mansion featured a three-story main building flanked by two-story wings. The elliptical hallway was three stories high with a striking spiral staircase, its black-and-white marbled tiles leading to the living room which faced the ocean and measured 65ft in length and 30ft in width. A mezzanine gallery, where musicians would play regular afternoon concerts and dances, flanked the walls of the living room which contained a fireplace big enough to roast an ox. There was a library with “handsomely finished bookcases… their shelves filled with numerous rare volumes” and a room for flower arranging which included a trash-chute leading down to the basement for dead flowers.

The grounds were designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted and included a rose garden, two greenhouses, three vegetable gardens, a garage, and stables. Avalon’s most striking feature was the terrace which ran from one side of the building to the other, flanked on either side by covered verandas. When the living room windows were opened, guests were treated to unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, which could be reached by walking down the terrace’s set of stairs and down the grassy hill.

A Garden Party at Avalon – Banning Family Collection of Photographs at the Huntington Library

In the summer of 1909, Beatrice and her family would be on the terrace breathing in the salty air when they noticed a horse approach in the distance. It was a beautiful white charger, the kind of horse the cavalry would ride into battle, mounted by Second Lieutenant George S. Patton Jr. Already a master horseman who often advised Beatrice on her riding skills, he rode up the twenty-six steps to the terrace, stopped in front of his sweetheart, and doffed his cap as he made his horse bow in front of her. 

Family holidays were spent at Avalon, where Uncle George and his brother-in-law Keith Merrill enjoyed setting off fireworks on July 4. George’s first attempt at teaching his daughter Ruth Ellen to swim was at Avalon when she was four years old. He threw her into Salem Harbor, exclaiming to an enraged Beatrice that “all little animals” swim naturally. It soon became obvious that his daughter was one little animal who did not swim naturally, so he was obliged to jump after her, ruining his new flannel pants, a horror he lamented for years to come. He repeated his performance a few years later when he threw four-year-old George into the water in front of the shocked Merrills, but his son calmly swam to shore, having learned to swim while in Hawaii.

Rear view of Avalon – Beverly Public Library.

Snippet – The 2nd Armored Division March

For General Patton, there was nothing more beautiful than a well-executed dress parade, especially when his wife composed the music. Beatrice Patton possessed an “artistic temperament” and an ear not only for languages but also for music. She had a perfect understanding of harmony, “played the piano by ear, could transpose as she played, liked [African American] ballads and folk songs” and composed accompaniments to Kipling’s poetry.

Beatrice and her sister Kay at the Tiffany-designed Ayer Mansion on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts

A gifted pianist, Beatrice gave her first public piano recital when she turned eleven in 1897 and seriously considered pursuing a professional career. She always played after dinner growing up — a genuine delight to her father, Frederick Ayer — and continued the custom for the rest of her life, no matter where she was.

Wherever there was a piano, Beatrice could be found calling out to her audience, “What does anyone want to sing next?” When her daughters Bee and Ruth Ellen became Baptists, she immediately caught on to the harmonious hymns. Many a night, The Old Rugged Cross, Beatrice’s favorite, reverberated through the Patton home, wherever it may be.

Her musical talents were in stark contrast to her husband’s, who once stood at attention thinking he heard the Star-Spangled Banner while, in reality, it was a funeral march. George “evolved” a theory of his own “that people who are not musical are usually not good at languages because their ear is so constructed that the fine differences of sounds do not affect them hence they cannot pronounce.”

Beatrice tried to teach him to sing during their courtship, but a tone deaf George was pretty “hopeless” and could barely distinguish between the different bugle calls. “He didn’t have a musical ear but he liked music,” Beatrice later recalled, and they occasionally attended the opera together. On Sunday evenings, when she sat down at the piano to sing with the children, George stayed behind in his study to read.

In 1941, while George was commander of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, Beatrice composed the 2nd Armored Division March. She figured a rousing march was just what was needed to help boost the morale of the thousands of new recruits arriving at Fort Benning every month. She collaborated with the Army Band and composer Peter DeRose — his wife was “the Original Ukulele Lady” May Singhi Breen — to create the piece meant for a full military band.

Infusing the march with her husband’s personality, who rode through town like a charioteer heralding his arrival with tooting horns and wailing sirens, the 2nd Armored Division March opened with gunshots and a blaring siren. There’s no doubt who inspired her to write the lyrics:

We’re Uncle Samuel’s men of the great fighting forces

You’ll hear from us now and then we’re the New Armored Corps

We move to the fight like the stars in their courses

And all we required to know is where is the war!

Armored cars the fighting tanks,

The new armored corps;

Manned inside and out by Red Blood Yanks,

come join us if you want to go to WAR!

Glorious! Glorious! In War we’re ever victorious.

We move right in and fight like sin,

In the great Armored Corps.

Snippet – The Tail of a Kite

Beatrice Patton knew after years of experience that the trick was “not to say goodbye at all” but to be “very casual about it.” The plan had been for the Pattons’ leave-taking to take place at Bolling Airfield just outside Washington, but when they stood on the tarmac on the afternoon of October 23, 1942, Beatrice gratefully accepted General Stratemeyer’s offer to come along to Norfolk, Virginia. After all, her husband “expected to die fighting” and this might be the last time she ever saw him.

Major General Patton was the commander of the Western Task Force — in charge of the invasion of Casablanca — in a joint British-American amphibious operation in North Africa called Operation Torch. The C-47 took off at 2 p.m., Beatrice surrounded by George’s most loyal subordinates: Deputy Commander General Keyes; Chief of Staff Colonel Gay; Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Hawkins; Captains Jenson and Stiller, George’s aides; and finally Meeks, his faithful orderly. George looked the same way she’d always seen him when he was about to enter the polo field at the start of an Inter-Island match in Hawaii, both nervous and excited. Her suspicions were confirmed when the C-47 landed in Norfolk and he “started to leave without saying good-by [sic].”

As he prepared to board the Augusta, Beatrice kissed her husband of thirty-two years and stepped into the waiting car which would drive her the two hundred miles back to Washington. She sat there for hours — some say until 3 a.m., when the fleet finally pulled out of the harbor — mesmerized by the sight of the flickering lights aboard the hundreds of ships in the harbor. The largest single armada to sail from US soil was an impressive sight, but the image which remained with her forever was of the only man she ever loved embarking on his destiny.

Beatrice “was glad, the great strain was over for him at last,” but just like at a polo match it was only just beginning for her. To have George safe at home with her meant bouts of unhappiness like he experienced intermittently over the last twenty-four years, to have him take part in the biggest war in history meant years of anxiety and waiting for her. This was his last chance to gain the glory he yearned for his whole life, and she knew he would give it his all because “life and happiness [were] small sacrifices.” She accepted it, however, as their shared destiny the day she married him.

It is quite telling of a woman’s character and devotion when she marries a man who warned her he doesn’t “care for a home and friends and peace and a regular order of life.” It took courage, perseverance, and a dash of eccentricity to be married to a man who focused his entire life on preparing for an opportunity which might or might not come. Beatrice realized very early on that standing in her husband’s way would only be detrimental. “If they are true men, a woman can’t hold them back,” she told a reporter. “And a true woman wouldn’t want to.”

Instead, she would help him shoulder the responsibilities of his destiny. If anyone considered an army wife to be “merely the tail of the kite,” Beatrice Ayer Patton had the perfect retort, “How high can a kite soar without its tail?”


George S. Patton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

“Lieut. Gen. and Mrs. George S. Patton, Jr.” Cosmopolitan Magazine, Nov. 1943, pp. 8–11. 

Patton, Beatrice Ayer. “The Army Wife.” The Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 1943. 

Patton, Robert H. The Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family. Potomac Books, an Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 

Picture: Invasion convoy enroute to Morocco, circa early November 1942. National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

Snippet – The Birth of Beatrice Banning Ayer

Beatrice Banning Ayer (left) was born in one of the upstairs bedrooms at the Ayer Mansion in Lowell on January 12, 1886. She had blue eyes, blonde hair, and a little dimple in her chin just like her mother. Ellie named her daughter Beatrice not because of a family connection, but because of its meaning. Derived from the Latin Beatrix, “she who makes happy,” the Italian Beatrice was most commonly translated as “the bringer of joy and blessings.”

Frederick Ayer Jr., named for his father but known henceforth as Fred or Freddie, was born on May 7, 1888, and Mary Katharine, named for her aunt but known henceforth as Kay, was born on September 3, 1890.

Beatrice’s cosmopolitan childhood prepared her exceptionally well for life in the army. Beginning in 1896, the Ayers made their home in Paris, traveling most of the time around Europe and the Middle East. Six months were spent on a dahabiyeh sailing down the Nile, creating in Beatrice an openness to different cultures that would one day allow her to be one with the Native Hawaiians. It also awakened in her a sense of curiosity and adventure that would match her husband’s, giving her the impetus to follow him across the hunting fields of Massachusetts and the Pacific Ocean on a schooner.

“We studied history in the land where the events took place,” Beatrice remembered later, and the same went for languages. These experiences allowed her to develop into a confident and independent woman capable of thinking for herself. It enabled her to adjust to the peripatetic nature of army life and made her flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances easily. The Ayers might have been industrialists, but they raised their children in a progressive environment, free from the trappings of wealth and open to new experiences beyond the confines of Commonwealth Avenue.

Picture: Private Album