Tag Archives: Snippets

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.

The Private Patton

Beatrice was one of the few people privy to both the public and the private Patton, two sides which were very hard to reconcile for outsiders. George spent his entire life hidden behind a mask defined by many as “Old Blood and Guts”, but with his wife he could be himself: hunting in the countryside and sailing the Pacific, engrossed by the vastness surrounding him; writing perceptive letters filled with the romance and beauty of everything he saw around him; sitting with her and reading well into the night; writing and reciting poetry, often for the woman he considered “my one love, my body and my life.”

Separated for months and sometimes years at a time, Beatrice Patton followed her husband by newspaper and letter through the Mexican Punitive Expedition, the Great War and the Second World War. Whether he was sitting in a tent in the Mexican desert, the home of the mayor of a French town, or a palace in Sicily, George Patton always made time to write his wife. He wrote so many letters even during the worst of the fighting that Beatrice wondered “how he manages to write me so often.” His letters were colorful and full of details… more details than most officers would feel comfortable sharing with their wives.

The Pattons at Fort Benning in 1942 – Courtesy of the Huntington Library

Writing Beatrice was the next best thing to having her by his side, even though the censors sometimes made it impossible for George to convey his true feelings. He not only missed her company when he was away from her, but he also missed her sage advice and keen judgment. He depended on her replies and was “disappointed when I don’t get one.” From the beginning of their courtship, she was adept at reading between the lines and knew exactly what to say to bolster his confidence. She never shied away from being totally honest with him, though, and immediately pointed out that he was always taking up too much space in his letters with “that old favorite subject (I).”

The Pattons’ espistolary relationship began in December 1902 when Beatrice sent the seventeen-year-old boy she met over the summer a tie pin of a fox’s head. Forty-three years later, on December 5, 1945, George ended his last letter with, “I may see you before you see this.” The thousands of letters he wrote his wife in between are now part of the George S. Patton Papers at the Library of Congress. Reading them is a bit of a one-sided conversation because most of Beatrice’s letters were either destroyed or kept private, but the collection offers a revealing glimpse into the private thoughts and personal life of General Patton and his wife.

Note on spelling: “For some reason my brain seems to be absolutely non receptive when words are conserned,” George wrote his father from West Point. He agonized over the problem, thinking himself stupid and lazy until he decided it took more imagination to spell a word “several different ways” than continuously spelling it the same way. Whether he suffered from dyslexia will never be known for sure, but it was up to Beatrice in the future to correct important letters and papers.

As to Kuhlborns self there is little to say except that owing to his immortal nature he lived through the foot-ball season and did not even brake a bone (worse luck) and that he is now devoting more time than he should to making a polo team; (for above all things he is desirus of an early and glorious death).”

January 10, 1903 – George’s first letter to Beatrice

I wish you were here all the season for some how I work harder when you are around. Should I fail to do some thing please cuss me out once in a while will you I must do some thing.

September 9, 1908

It is strange that I dont get your point of view on life. Realy all joking aside I don’t expect ever to be sixty not that it is old but simply that I would prefer to wear out from hard work before then. Nor do I care for a home and friends and peace and a regular order of life. I would like to fight up to the top and then go off the edge and rest in a better at least quieter place than earth.

February 21, 1909

There are few d—f— husbands who write twice a day to their wives even when their wives wear such low dresses as B [Jr.] says you do. Please keep it till I get home or get a lower one. George.

October 26, 1916

This is the last letter I shall write you from Mexico. I have learned a lot about my profession and a lot how much I love you. The first was necessary the second was not.

January 29, 1917

I want you to be the same age when I get back as when I left. Also die your hair for I don’t like gray hair at all.

February 8, 1918

When this war is over I am going to insist on using a single bed for both of us at the same time. There is perhaps more than one reason for this, but the only one which the censor and modisty will allow me to mention is that I am tired of being cold and especially of getting into a large and empty bed full of cold sheets. Hence you will have to go to bed first.

February 27, 1918

Well this is the second letter I have written you to day. I only wish it were not necessary and that I could hold you in my arms and squeeze you. I have almost forgotten how soft you are even with corsets on to say nothing of your softness in your wedding nighty. I love you so B.

March 19, 1918

It seems a heartless thing to say but I think that Ellie is happier than she would have been to have continued on with out your father. They were as nearly one as is possible to be — as nearly as one as we are. I do not think I would care much about keeping on if you were gone. Because if you were not around to admire what I did what the rest thought would make little difference.

April 11, 1918 – George writes Beatrice from France upon her mother’s death

If I tried to tell you how much I love you I would get writers cramp.

March 21, 1925

At polo I had an off day in the second period Walter ran into me, it was my fault, and hurt my leg quite a lot though not seriously. Then in the fourth period Bull fell and gave me quite a spill but again with no bad effects…Don’t worry about me as I am o.k. And simply tell you so as to keep my Promise.

August 19, 1927

I hope I did not leave you with the impression that I thought you were either a poor sailor or mother. I think you are perfect in these rolls as in all others. I will even “bend” so much asto sail with you in the Dantesk if you want me. I love you. George.

July 21, 1930

From my view point as “wedding guest” I want to say again what a realy great organizer I think you are. No show could have gone better and it was a very large show too. Also no mother of a bride ever looked better or cried less.

July 7, 1934

I doubt that I will be killed or even wounded but one can never tell. It is all a question of destiny… Well when you get this you will either be a widow or a radio fan, I trust the latter. In either case I love you.

July 5, 1943

I appreciate your loyalty and miss your aid, but your spirit is with me. I love you.

December 21, 1943

Just had a phone from Beedle to see him in the morning. I always get things like that on Sundays or New Years etc, so I am used to it. Apparently much umbrage has been taken to my last, wholy casual remarks, and I may be able to go sailing sooner than I had thought, but the Chesapeake in the spring is said to be lovley. If I have caused you added worry, I am sorry.

April 30, 1944

I know my defects but don’t know those of others and of course I have had great luck, never forgotten you as the greatest.

June 24 1944

Yesterday I drove in a peep in zero weather for about eight hours. When I came in I was so cold I got in a hot tub and to give a tropical aspect, turned on the sun lamp. And left it on for about 20 minutes. It was some 12 feet away, but is pretty potent. My eyes were already bad from the snow. I woke up at 1145 in great pane with my eyes running like a spigot. I got up and woke Col. Odom, the Dr. who lives with us – my personal physician? He put cold barasic compresses on for two hours, gave me a shot of morphine and a sleeping powder. I stayed in bed till noon in a dark room, and now the eyes are well. I am like a puppy, always sticking my nose into trouble. The night of the 28 at 0130 our time, which is 5:30 your time, I dreamed I was in a boat in a muddy creek and had just started to back down stream when you came running over the mud and called “Georgie” the way you do. Were you in any trouble?

January 31, 1945

Your telegram . . . and your modest estimate of me means more than the opinion of the rest of the world .

May 9, 1945

Your radio about asking for an official investigation . . . felt just like a look out of your brave loyal eyes.

September 29, 1945


  • James G. Harbord Papers, MS 1493, The New-York Historical Society
  • Blumenson, Martin. The Patton Papers: 1940-1945
  • Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.

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 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