“I wish people wouldn’t make him so blood-and-gutsy,” Beatrice told Jane Eads of the Los Angeles Times in April 1943. She knew George Patton was “a man furiously fighting for his country,” a man who gave a cold soldier the coat off his back, who stopped his jeep by the side of the road to administer morphine, and who personally ensured that his men received a hot turkey dinner on Christmas Eve.
The name “Old Blood and Guts” first appeared in newspapers in August 1942, in a syndicated article titled “Old Blood and Guts Screams Orders So Loud He Scares Birds.” No explanation was given for the label, except that it was what soldiers called George Patton, in addition to “The Green Hornet” and “Bandito.” (The first was in reference to a tanker’s uniform he designed, and the second to a raid during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916 that led to the killing of three Villistas.)
General George Patton was first called “Old Blood and Guts” in 1941 while training the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning. The name came about because of his fiery motivational speeches to his men, often filled with profanity and references to blood and guts. It was only during the war that some soldiers began referring to it as “his guts and our blood,” and the 1943 Slapping Incident ultimately gave a negative connotation to the name “Old Blood and Guts.”
I PREFER THE BOOK NOT TO BE CALLED, “BLOOD AND GUTS,” A NAME WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN USED BY ANY SOLDIER AND WAS A FIGMENT OF THE IMAGINATION OF SOME NEWSPAPER CORRESPONDENT. I AM ALWAYS EITHER REFERRED TO AS “THE OLD MAN,” OR “GEORGIE,” EXCEPT AS YOU POINT OUT BY MY GRANDSON.
–George Patton to author William Mellor, February 20, 1945
Beatrice agreed the name wasn’t an entire misnomer, but it was somewhat limiting in its description of her husband; her “Georgie” was more than just “fire and purple profanity.” Because he never did anything to dispel its myth, “Old Blood and Guts” forever overshadowed the kind and sensitive man she knew him to be in private. As Sally Flint, widow of Colonel Paddy Flint, once said, “Underneath the rough-spoken, cold-blooded exterior, he was a gentle and kindly person who had to make himself tough to do the job he had. He wasn’t born that way.”
George S. Patton Jr. was as good an actor as George C. Scott. His war face was as much an accoutrement of being a successful commanding general as his immaculate uniform, and his family knew the pistols, the grimace, and the uniform were nothing more than pieces “of an effective military commander’s tool kit.”
THIS COLT FORTY-FIVE THAT I CARRY, DON’T YOU THINK I GET TIRED OF IT? IT’S DAMNED HEAVY. BUT I CAN NO MORE LEAVE IT OFF THAN WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN COULD HAVE LEFT OFF THAT WHITE TIE OF HIS.
-General Patton, Saturday Evening Post June 23, 1945
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.
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.
After crossing the Pacific Ocean twice in a schooner—from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back, in 1935 and 1937, respectively—the Pattons were convinced they wanted to circumnavigate the globe one day. They sold the Arcturus but vowed to build their own schooner, keeping detailed notes in a little book titled “When and If we ever build a boat.”
They didn’t plan to execute the blueprint for their ideal schooner anytime soon, but fate intervened on July 25, 1937. Just a few weeks after the Arcturus’s final crossing—in which they got caught in a violent storm that delayed their arrival over two weeks—George suffered a severe fracture of his right leg while out riding with Beatrice, his daughter, and son-in-law at Green Meadows, their home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Since doing nothing was “tiresome” for George, Beatrice looked for ways to keep him busy. With only his mind to keep him occupied, now was as good a time as any to commission their dream schooner. Inspired by the Arcturus’s beauty and maneuverability, she contacted its designer, John Alden, one of America’s premier naval architects and the owner of the Alden Design Offices in Boston.
Born in Troy, New York, on January 24, 1884, Alden spent his childhood summers at Sakonnet, Rhode Island. He enjoyed being on the water from a young age, blessed with an inherent knowledge of boats and an uncanny ability to handle them. After a move to Boston in his teens, he forewent an education at MIT and instead taught himself naval architecture. After several stints with local design offices, Alden ventured out on his own in 1909. His first few years in business were a struggle, but he was determined to make a success of the Alden Design Offices.
Colonel Patton could appreciate a man who focused on a singular goal, as well as one who was courageous and adventurous. Alden’s most significant design influence was his ordeal aboard the Fame in 1907. He offered to sail the schooner from Halifax to Boston after its crew was quarantined with smallpox, and he offered to do it with a skeleton crew in the dead of winter. The trip almost ended in disaster, but it made Alden aware of two things: his schooners had to be able to be sailed singlehanded, and he always prioritized seaworthiness over speed.
Instead of meeting with the Pattons in his office as he was wont to do with new clients, Alden traveled to Green Meadows to meet with them. He was particularly impressed with their knowledge and carefully noted their three requirements: a beautiful schooner fast enough for Beatrice to race, sturdy enough to sail the world, and maneuverable enough to be operated by one person. By the end of their meeting, Alden had made an initial sketch, which he passed on to his draftsmen in Boston.
On January 26, 1938, George signed a contract with F. F. Pendleton in Wiscasset, Maine, to build the When and If. His close friend Gordon Prince helped him decide on the name during one of the many evenings he spent at Green Meadows, keeping his friend company throughout his rehabilitation. Talking about the future, George said it no longer was a question of “When and If we build a boat,” but “When the war is over, and If I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.”
Beatrice had been right; the When and If brought her husband purpose during the darkest hours of his convalescence. He stayed in close contact with the individual artisans who were building the When and If up in Maine, bitterly complaining to Clifford Swaine, who drew the lines of design number 669, that he had recently been passed over twice for promotion and if it were to happen a third time, he was going to resign the Army and sail his new boat around Cape Horn to Catalina Island, where he spent his childhood summers.
George was involved with every aspect of his schooner’s completion. He even designed the When and If’s private signal (an identifying flag present on all big yachts) using red, blue, and yellow, the colors of the Tank Corps as chosen by his soldiers in 1917 at its inception. He was so proud of the work that he told Beatrice to go see her in Maine in August 1938 because “if you wait too long she will be all planked and you wont know how well she is built.”
The When and If took about a year to construct and was rigged by Joe Ekeland, a master captain and a lifelong friend of the Pattons who had sailed with them to and from Hawaii. When she launched on February 6, 1939, she measured sixty-three-and-a-half feet, weighed thirty tons, and could sail up to 228 miles per day under the right conditions, with an auxiliary diesel engine for emergencies. She was constructed “like a tank,” with a double hull of mahogany over cedar and enough space below deck to sleep thirteen people comfortably.
After sailing the When and If from Maine to its home at the Manchester Yacht Club, the Pattons made their first extensive trip on June 28, 1939, sailing to Norfolk, Virginia. However, their enjoyment was short-lived, and when the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, George put his precious baby in storage as a precaution. All he could think of were the events of May 1940, when any British vessel worthy of crossing the North Sea was asked to help evacuate the over 330,000 stranded British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.
He referenced his schooner in several letters during the war, most often when he feared being sent home, and he expected his wife to be putting the When and If into commission sooner than expected. His fears never became a reality, and Beatrice didn’t have to refit her until June 1945, when General Patton returned home for a war bond-selling tour. Unfortunately, the little sailing they had time for during his month-long stay also was his last.
Beatrice had always been a natural on the water and a highly experienced sailor who participated in many races along the North Shore and in Hawaii. While the When and If might have stood as a beacon of unfulfilled dreams, Beatrice was out on the water as often as possible, going on long-distance sails with friends and family and teaching her grandchildren to sail along the rocky Manchester Bay. She shared responsibility for the When and If with her brother Frederick “Fred” Ayer, who inherited the schooner when Beatrice passed away in 1953.
When Frederick Ayer passed away in 1972, everyone agreed to donate the schooner to the Landmark School in Beverly to be used in a program for dyslexic children. Eighteen years later, she broke free from her mooring during a gale and crashed into the rocks prevalent along the North Shore. The insurance company deemed the When and If a total loss, but a private investor purchased and lovingly restored her. Her current owners are working hard to make the Pattons’ dream of sailing her around the world come true, raising money through sunset sails and private charters in Key West during wintertime and Salem during summertime.
The inspiration behind the memorable opening scene of Patton is a photograph taken in June 1945 at General Patton’s home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He had just completed a war bond-selling tour throughout the United States and was enjoying his first real vacation since March 1940. Unlike George C. Scott’s Patton, the real George Patton never simultaneously wore all his medals and ribbons. That one day on the back porch of Green Meadows, he only did so at the request of his close friend, Dr. Peer Johnson.
Hollywood’s tendency toward creative license made the Patton family reluctant to consent to a movie, not to mention the anger Beatrice felt toward the press regarding their treatment of her husband in the last few months of his life. In 1950, she began fielding calls from movie studios but categorically refused—as did her children after she died in 1953. However, one man wasn’t willing to give up on the project.
Brigadier General Frank McCarthy was a movie producer who graduated from VMI and enlisted in the Army Reserve at the start of WWII, becoming General Marshall’s aide and eventually the secretary of the General Staff. McCarthy respectfully waited almost twenty years for the Patton family to change their mind, until he and Twentieth Century Fox decided they had waited long enough. Francis Ford Coppola wrote the winning script, which focused on the General’s WWII years, while George C. Scott assumed the title character’s role.
When Patton was finally released in 1970, General Patton’s children were pleasantly surprised. Upon watching the iconic opening scene, his son’s first reaction was consternation that George C. Scott sounded nothing like his father. (You can view a video of General Patton speaking at the LA Memorial Coliseum here.) As the movie progressed, though, he realized Scott did have his Pop’s gestures, and he was particularly moved by the scene of him walking with his men toward Bastogne. The General’s daughter came away with similar feelings, brought to tears not only by Scott’s portrayal but also by the audience’s reaction, and she admitted the family had been wrong in fighting the movie for so long.
In the end, it was George C. Scott who was not happy with the final result, and he refused to accept his Oscar for Best Actor. Ashamed of the movie’s lack of breadth and dimension, he produced The Last Days of Patton in 1986 and reprised his award-winning role to show a more personal side of General Patton alongside his wife, portrayed by Eva Marie Saint. However, no movie or book can ever capture the complex personality of the true General Patton.
In a way, George S. Patton was as much an actor as George C. Scott, playing his role so well that he eventually became one with the character. Beatrice might have found some solace in the fact that Patton helped perpetuate the memory of General Patton. Still, it would have been disappointing to her that George C. Scott did such a good job portraying him that he pretty much replaced her husband in the public’s mind.
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.
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.
It was said that men who came face-to-face with the Tiffany Chapel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a.k.a. the World’s Columbian Exposition) doffed their hats in reverence. Whether the chapel’s mosaic columns and stained glass windows had that effect on Frederick Ayer is unknown, but his wife Ellie–a famed horticulturalist in the Boston area–undoubtedly would have been equally impressed with Tiffany’s ability to showcase the diverse flora of the United States in a vase. The Magnolia Vase, also shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition, depicted pinecones and needles to symbolize the North and East, cacti to symbolize the Southwest, and magnolias to symbolize the South and West.
When the Ayers moved from Lowell to Boston at the turn of the century, they commissioned Alfred John Manning and Louis Comfort Tiffany to build their dream home at 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Neither Frederick nor Ellie “made any pretense of being ‘Proper Bostonians,’” and the five-story mansion was a slap in the face of the Boston Brahmins, the traditional upper class who ruled Commonwealth Avenue. The home was “unusually progressive for turn-of-the-century Boston,” not surprising since Frederick’s “thoughts were always of the future.” Commissioning Manning and Tiffany to build an Art Nouveau-influenced home inspired by the family’s recent travels to Europe and the Orient came as easy to him as investing in Alexander Bell’s telephone and the New York subway.
The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion lies west of Massachusetts Avenue, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Tiffany specified almost every detail of the house, from walls to light fixtures, and even designed custom furniture. His favorite motif throughout the house was the lotus, a detail that blended well with the Ayers’ exotic decorations they brought back from their grand tour. Ellie’s style and personality were reflected throughout the house, nowhere more so than in the foyer staircase, which doubled as a stage. The wall was a mosaic trompe l’oeil of an ancient Greek temple, the columns “composed of semi-transparent glass backed by gold foil.”
Forty-three years later–on the day General Patton returned victorious from the war in Europe and Boston welcomed him as a hero–Beatrice Ayer Patton’s mind filled with memories as the motorcade drove by 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Her family had sold the home a long time ago, but the memories remained: the living room with the grand piano she played with remarkable skill; the foyer, which acted like a stage; the library where George had finally admitted his love; and the third-floor bedroom in which she had locked herself when her father was reluctant to give his permission to marry.
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 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.
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.
George Patton considered himself to “have a hell of a memory for poetry and war.” An astute student of military history, he could also conjure up a poem appropriate to any situation. Raised on the verses of Kipling and Homer, during times of war when he couldn’t sleep, George liked to pick up the pen and write poetry to cheer and inspire himself. Many a letter to Beatrice during the Mexican Punitive Expedition and WWI included a sheet of poetry, imploring her not to lose it as “they may be priceless some day.”
In 1919, Beatrice tested that premise and sent a compilation of her husband’s poems to a publisher. She prefaced the work with a disclaimer from the anonymous author: “These rhymes were written (over a period of years) for his own amusement by a man who having seen something of war is more impressed with the manly virtues it engenders than with the necessary and much exaggerated horrors attendant upon it. They are offered to the public in the hope that they may counteract to a degree the melancholy viewpoint so freely expatiated upon by most writers.”
George’s vivid imagery describing both the horrors and glories of war were not appreciated in 1919 and Beatrice’s proposal was rejected, but all that changed during WWII when General Patton gained fame and reporters clamored for any piece of information they could get on him. Beatrice took advantage of the opportunity and renewed her effort to publish George’s work, knowing how much it would mean to him. She couldn’t believe her luck when Woman’s Home Companion paid $50 in October 1943 to print “God of Battles,” followed by Cosmopolitan in early 1945, which published “Fear.”
Collier’s, however, declined to print “The Song of the Bayonet,” explaining to Beatrice that “nothing more should be printed that will revive the “Old Blood and Guts” legend.” Yet there was a more sensitive side to George which was reserved just for Beatrice.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George S. Patton Papers.
Patton, G. S., J. “FEAR.” Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan 05 1945: 36-7. ProQuest.
Patton, G. S., J. “FEAR.” Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan 05 1945: 36-7. ProQuest.
"To Beatrice"(Written during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in October 1916.)
Oh! loveliest of women,
What ere I gain or do,
Is naught if in achieving,
I bring not joy to you.
I know I often grieve you,
All earthly folk are frail,
But if this grief I knowing wrought,
My life’s desire would fail.
The mandates of stern duty,
Oft takes us far apart,
But space is impotent to check,
The heart which calls to heart.
Perhaps by future hidden,
Some greatness waits in store,
If so, the hope your praise to gain,
Shall make my efforts more.
For victory apart from you,
Would be an empty gain,
A laurel crown you could not share,
Would be reward in vain.
You are my inspiration,
Light of my brain and soul,
Your guiding love by night or day,
Will keep my valor whole.
"To Your Picture"(Written "To a picture just received from Beatrice" in France on June 25, 1918.)
Your picture here before me shows too well,
The sweetness which I know is latent there,
The pleading torment of your laughing eyes,
The maddening rapture of your glorious hair.
Shown without color, flat, and without breath
Your subtle charm yet gives the picture life,
And makes the cardboard throb and thrill again
With those dear passions which are yours - my wife.
Though distance parts us with the heaving sea.
And Time essays to dull your face and form.
The last is impotent to blind my eyes.
And your dear self shines clear through the storm.
Though I have naught of you but thoughts to cheer
Your spirit aides me in the throbbing strife.
And aught I do I do for you alone;
You, my one love, my body and my life.
"The Vision"(Written in Colonia Dublan, Mexico, in January 1917.)
Fiercely the squadron followed,
Trampling the withered grass,
And I heard the clatter as men went down,
And the hiss of the shots that pass.
And then one came before its sound,
I fell for an endless way,
Till a mighty calm engulfed me,
And I woke to a clearer day.
The dust no longer choked me;
The charge seethed far ahead.
A limp form lay beneath my mare;
Its face was mine and - - dead.
I looked at the thing which I had been; —
The blood oozed from its face —
At the sword I had known so well to use,
Now limp in death’s embrace.
I thought complacently of fame,
And how I had broken the foe;
But then I thought with gripping pain,
Of those I loved - - their woe.
As I mused the miles had vanished;
I stood in my childhood’s home,
While she I loved stood near me;
Yet knew not I had come.
I tried to speak and warn her,
But only my dogs could hear,
They sought to lick my viewless hands,
Then howling fled in fear.
I saw the smile upon her lips,
While the flowers bloomed beside;
I could not bear that she should hear,
That I had really died.
My thirst for glory faded then,
Before unselfish love;
I prayed to live for her - - not fame,
They say my stunned mare moved.
Her struggles caught a searcher’s eye;
They carried me away,
And when I woke days later,
T’was near my love I lay.
(Written in Champlieu, France, on November 26, 1917, after finding Beatrice's shoes hiding in the car he had shipped over from the US.)
While searching in my motor car
To get a can of grease
I came upon some rubber shoes
The shoes of Beatrice.
You who have never met her
Of course can hardly know
The train of deep emotions
Those rubbers set aglow.
For gazing on them brought to mind
The picture of her feet
And dainty legs in stockings trim
Duck walking up the street.
The memory of her cunningness
And of her crooked tooth
The tragic thought that far from her
I’d passed the half our youth.
So picking up the grease can
I sadly turned aside
And jammed a hub cap full of goo
My woeful thoughts to hide.
Beatrice Banning Ayer looked like a child standing next to George S. Patton Jr. when they met in the summer of 1902. She was only so in appearance, though, because the worldly sixteen-year-old was mature beyond her years and exuded an air of confidence which dwarfed her unsophisticated seventeen-year-old escort. Unlike George, who only read about the military battles of Napoleon, Xenophon, and Caesar, Beatrice “studied history in the land where the events took place.” Her parents were avid travelers and made their home in Paris for two years — 1896 to 1898 — while they toured across Europe and the Orient. They took along their children, cultivating in them an openness to new experiences, different cultures, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Embarrassed to be seen spending the summer with a “little girl,” George tried hard to shake his charge. Beatrice, however, relentlessly followed him across Catalina Island, showing no apprehension at taking any of the risks he did and setting the tone for the rest of their lives. Underneath her frilly dress was a true tomboy with a determination which would only grow stronger over time. Her quiet composure hid a perceptiveness which easily saw through George’s boastfulness as a way to cover up his insecurities. By the time he entered West Point in 1905, Beatrice supplanted his father in offering advice and words of encouragement. Somehow she knew the perfect combination of compliments, criticisms, and suggestions to make him not feel offended, even when she stood up to him.
The Ayers were capitalists and military life was alien to them, yet Beatrice never tried to rein George in even when he admitted he was “desirus [sic] of an early and glorious death.” Instead, she continuously festered the flames of his ambition and unflinchingly stepped into the unknowns of Army life. It took her a long time to learn how “to take it,” but once she did, she was able to channel her worry into worthier causes. From that point forward, a certain reputation preceded Beatrice from post to post, one which commanded respect, not because she was wealthy, but because she was kind, showed interest in others, and always stood ready to help those in need without drawing attention to herself. On the other hand, she was high-spirited and could be as unpredictable as she was sensible. Her temper was legendary — she physically had to be pulled off a Reserve Officer who insulted George — and she never forgave a slight nor forgot a grudge.
Beatrice approached life with a gusto that matched her husband’s. No one who saw the Pattons hunt together ever forgot the occasion. George would “pass by the low spots in the fence, in favor of a high place with an unknown landing on the far side,” calling out to his wife, “Come on, Bea! Do you want to live forever?” She was an accomplished sailor who twice placed second in the Woman’s National Championship, she went swimming in shark-infested waters off the coast of O’ahu, and she “nimbly” climbed into the turret of a small whippet tank when seven generals refused “with cold superiority” to join Major Patton for a demonstration. The confidence she possessed from a very young age strengthened the courage of her convictions. Pretense or underhandedness was not in her vocabulary; honesty and straightforwardness were traits possessed by all the Ayers.
Beatrice was devoted to her husband and kept his life in order so he could focus all his energy on reaching his destiny. She corrected his spelling, translated military papers and books from French, and taught him the art of diplomacy. He depended on her advice to make important decisions and was “apt to make mistakes of judgment” without her. Everything they did was to prepare for a moment that might or might not come; riding on the Kansas prairie, they were “disposing of imaginary troops in the folds of the hills,” on O’ahu they “made landings on beaches where the surveys told us landings were impossible,” and in 1913 France, they “reconnoitered every hill and hedgerow in Brittany and Normandy.” Beatrice turned “right-square-out-of-this-world with enthusiasm” every time she heard of another one of George’s WWII exploits, yet she was “not just an appendage of the Great Man,” but “a person in herself, with a great deal to offer.”
When Beatrice threw a cluster of ʻōhelo ʻai berries into the erupting Halema’uma’u crater on the Island of Hawaii, a gust of wind threw a branch back at her feet. Her friend Emma Ahuena Taylor, an expert on Hawaiian anthropology who was a Native Hawaiian high chiefess, explained that Pele wanted to share with her, but the Goddess of Fire was not the only one who wanted to do so. While the Native Hawaiians were reluctant to open up to foreigners out of fear of being ridiculed, they recognized in Beatrice a kindred spirit whose interest in their culture was genuine. Friends like Hamana Kalili — a local fisherman who is said to be the originator of the Shaka sign — shared with her the stories of their past, invited her to attend ancient ceremonies, and took her to hidden archaeological sites. All her research eventually led to the publication of two books: Légendes Hawaiiennes, a collection of Hawaiian legends which she translated in French as a challenge to herself, and Blood of the Shark, “a romance of old Hawaii in the days of Kamehameha the Great.”
During WWII Beatrice worked for the War Department Public Relations Women’s Interest Section. She quickly gained a reputation for being a “direct and purposeful speaker,” one who was doing “as fine and as well” in her sphere as George was doing in his. She spoke anywhere from women’s clubs to factories, packing her days “full to the brim… with every opportunity for usefulness,” “jumping around the country so constantly” that Chilly had a hard time keeping track of his sister. She urged women to get a job outside the home, part of the “ten-point regimen” she lived by in wartime, a “practical philosophy” gleaned from years of experience. Even though Beatrice only reluctantly spoke to the press, she was the perfect PR woman for her husband. She was as “magnificent in adversity” as she was “in success” and “behaved with wonderful tact and devotion” when George slapped two soldiers in Sicily.
Upon his untimely death in December 1945, Beatrice was responsible for shaping General Patton, the legend. She returned to the US from his funeral in Luxembourg with the portrait he intended to give her for Christmas, his beloved bull terrier Willie, and a staggering amount of papers. For months on end, Beatrice and her brother painstakingly transcribed George’s letters and diaries and completed the manuscript he wrote in the months leading up to his death. After careful consideration, she went ahead with the publication of War as I Knew It in November 1947. Living up to the example set by George, Beatrice’s driving power increased as she grew older. She traveled the world attending ceremonies in his name, became a vocal proponent of Universal Military Training, and fought tooth and nail to prevent her husband’s grave being moved.
Beatrice Ayer Patton never wanted to be known. All she ever wanted was for people to remember her husband, “the finest, bravest, most gallant, and best-looking man who ever lived… destined for unimaginable glory.” It is undeniable, however, that she did not walk behind George Patton on his path to glory, but right next to him. There would “be no Taps at the Army wife’s funeral,” yet Beatrice was a true soldier in all but combat experience.
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.
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