General Patton’s Abandoned Rear

Through a strange misunderstanding, a small town in France maintained the grave of a fallen American soldier for several decades. It wasn’t a soldier’s grave at all, but a spot where General George Patton had marked an abandoned latrine pit. In this episode, we learn a little about Patton and how this story came to be. Then we chat with Comedian, Magician and Author Nick Paul. 

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History knows him as a few different names. “Old Blood and Guts.” “Georgie.” “Bandito.” “The Old Man.” But when you use his name, General George S. Patton, it’s hard to find an American who hasn’t heard of him. Helped by a popular 1970 biopic starring George C. Scott, Patton is one of those figures of history that has gone down as undoubtedly one of the greatest combat generals to ever live.

He was a divisive figure, particularly later in his life. But there’s no doubt that he was effective and celebrated for his military career. 

The American Expeditionary Forces were a formation of the United States Army on the Western Front during the first World War. Under the command of General John Pershing, tanks were being used for the very first time in combat. And George Patton  not only helped lead tanks into Combat, he trained others how to fight with tanks while he was in France. He ended up getting wounded and leaving the war, but continued to be instrumental after the war. He helped develop the doctrine that the army uses for training soldiers to fight with tanks. This led to a huge role in the second World War, where he commanded the 2nd Armored Division in to battle in Europe, and was actually vitally important to the success of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He was part of the operation that meant to fool the Germans into thinking that Normandy was just a diversion. It involved movements to mimic huge troop buildups in other parts of Europe, fake radio transmissions, leaked-on-purpose documents and a whole host of psy-ops campaigns to trick the enemy. By having a   prominent General like George Patton be a part of these tactics, it gave the fake plans credence, and was a huge success. He was given command of the 3rd Army and went on to have even more military achievements, including helping to relieve the troops at the Battle of the Bulge.

It was 1944 when the US Army was pushing through a small village in France by the name of Bourg, when Patton was reliving some of his memories of being there during World War I. That was the location of the tank training camp that he ran. He visited his old office and the place where he slept in the Chateau of Madame de Vaux. It was in Bourg in 1944 where he discovered a grave site that had been beautifully maintained. And he was one of the only men who knew the truth. It wasn’t a grave site at all.

So we’ve talked a little bit about General George Patton, and believe me there’s so much more to the man – good stories and not-so-good stories. But rather than get into a deep dive on his history, this episode just focuses on one particular story told in his memoirs.

Now Patton’s memoirs were published after his death by his wife. He’s credited with writing the book, called “War As I Knew It,” because he had been compiling these memories for some time before the book was published in 1947. Patton had passed away two years before. It was a strange accident. He had been riding in the back of a limousine in Manheim, Germany. He was on a duck-hunting trip and while crossing through an intersection, his driver sped into an army truck. Patton was thrown forward into the glass partition in the limo and broke his neck. He died 12 days later in the hospital. 

Among Patton’s possessions were an incredible collection of letters, journal entries and essays that he had been compiling throughout his later career. There were entries going back through his whole career. Here’s a transcript of one of the early journals he wrote – “Saturday June 23 1917, Sgt. Brain reported this morning that one of the machines ran over a French man and broke his collar bone. I called on the Prefect of Police of the district and after giving him a cigarette and a ride he assured me that the victim was a robber and that my man was a poor victim.”

There are hundreds of letters like this in The Library of Congress. And in those writings, published in 1947 we first learn about this story from the town of Bourg. I’m going to paraphrase it a bit in telling the story, but here’s what happened. 

As the Army was driving through France, they stopped briefly in Bourg. Patton recognized it as where he had stayed during the first World War. He recalled a man standing on a pile of manure and thought he looked like the man who he remembered standing in that same spot the last time he visited. He called out to the man to ask him if he had been there during the last war and the man apparently replied, “Oh, yes, General Patton, and you were here then as a Colonel.” As they passed through, he saw this grave that had been meticulously kept up all these years. The words on the cross said “Abandoned Rear.”

See back in the first war 27 years ago, the tank training camp was set to leave Bourg, and the town’s mayor approached Patton, and he’s got tears in his eyes. The Mayor expressed how sorry he was about the fallen soldier and how it just tore him up. And Patton looked at the man, puzzled. They hadn’t lost any men while they were there in the town and he was confused what the Mayor was talking about. So the mayor insisted that Patton follow him to the grave he was talking about. The Mayor led George Patton to a an area where a rectangle of fresh dirt had been piled in the otherwise muddy field. And there was that wooden stake sticking out of the ground, which a perpendicular stake nailed to it to resemble a cross. It was marked with the words “Abandoned Rear” because it was Patton’s little joke. The thing that the mayor thought was a grave was really a latrine pit where the tank school had been relieving themselves. He had ordered one of his soldiers to go and fill it in and mark it so people knew not to dig there. The word “rear” is just a pun – it’s a word for the back of an army position and they were abandoning it as they were filling it in. Well the locals apparently thought that was either the name of the soldier, or just thought that was how the Americans were referring to this fallen hero that was surely buried in this grave-shaped area. In his journal, Patton writes, “I never told them the truth.”

So there he was, 27 years later. Visiting the same town. And he confirmed that the so-called grave was still being maintained. Today, nobody knows where this grave was. People have looked for it and failed. There is a memorial to General Patton and his tank school in the town, but that’s about it. So is this true? Well the Internet says so, as does, one of the most well-known Generals in American History, “Old Blood and Guts” George Patton.

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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