Monthly Archives: August 2011

How the French maintained Patton’s latrine

General George S Patton is today remembered as a somewhat brash commander from WWII who was so feared by Germany that the Allies were able to successfully use him to dupe their enemy into believing their forces were massing to attack Calais instead of Normandy.  He courted controversy with many of his comments and was widely criticised when he slapped a soldier who was suffering from battle fatigue (a second similar incident was not as widely reported)

However, there was more to Patton than this image.

Patton fencing in the 1912 Olympics

A little known fact about Patton is that he was the first American to compete in the Modern Pentathlon when it was introduced in 1912.  He eventually finished 5th from a field of 32, and was the only non Swede in the top seven places.

Patton may well have medalled if not for a controversy in the pistol shooting event, when he placed 20th after the judges decided he must have missed the target completely with one of his shots, despite his claim that it went through the hole of his previous shot.

After the Olympics Patton trained at the French Cavalry School and became the US Army’s youngest ever Master of the Sword at Fort Riley and went on to design the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber, the last saber issued to the US cavalry.

During WWI Patton was asked to establish the Light Tank Training School after gaining experience using French tanks.  He soon found a small village called Bourg (near Langres) where he decided to set up his school and as the war was soon to end this episode in his life might be forgotten if not for an encounter 24 years later.

As the US army drove through Bourg in 1944, with Patton leading from the front, he spotted a man in the street and asked him if he was there during the last war.  “Oh, yes, General Patton” replied the man, “and you were here then as a Colonel.”  He then formed a triumphal procession of all the village armed with pitchforks, scythes, and rakes, and proceeded to rediscover Patton’s old haunts, including his office and his billet in the Chateau of Madame de Vaux.

They also visited the grave of “Abandoned Rear”, which Patton described thus:

The grave of that national hero, “Abandoned Rear,” was still maintained by the natives. It originated in this manner. In 1917, the mayor, who lived in the “new house” at Bourg, bearing the date 1700, came to me, weeping copiously, to say that we had failed to tell him of the death of one of our soldiers. Being unaware of this sad fact, and not liking to admit it to a stranger, I stalled until I found out that no one was dead. However, he insisted that we visit the “grave,” so we went together and found a newly closed latrine pit with the earth properly banked and a stick at one end to which was affixed crosswise a sign saying, “Abandoned Rear.” This the French had taken for a cross. I never told them the truth.

Patton WWI/WWII Tank Monument at Bourg, Haute-Marne, France

I couldn’t find a photo of the grave of “Abandoned Rear”, but there is still a monument to Patton at Bourg to remind us of his exploits.

After the war ended Patton returned to Germany and while on a day trip to hunt pheasants in the country, the truck in front made a sharp turn which caused his driver to hit the back of the truck at a low speed.

Though neither vehicle were hardly damaged, and everyone else escaped with minor injuries, Patton had been thrown forward from his seat at the back and struck his head on the partition between the front and back seats. The accident caused a cervical spine cord injury and he was rushed to hospital, but a few days later Patton died from a pulmonary embolism.

General Patton is buried with his men in Hamm, Luxembourg.


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Posted by on Monday 29th August 2011 in History, People, Places


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The man who stood up to Hitler

When East and West Germany were reunified, the Berlin Lawyers Association needed to come up with a new name, and chose for itself the Hans Litten Bar Association.  Some time earlier, in 1988, the German and European Democratic Lawyers Association created the Hans Litten Prize, awarded every two years to recognise lawyers who try to improve human rights.

But who was Hans Litten, and why did it take so long for him to be recognised?

Hans Litten feeling the cold weather

Born in 1903 to a wealthy family, his father converted from Judaism to Lutheranism to help his career as a Law Professor (and later an adviser to the Prussian Government) and his mother came from a well established Lutheran family.

Although he remained a Christian, Hans showed an early streak of rebellion by insisting on taking Hebrew as one of his subjects at school, and joined a Jewish Socialist youth group.  He was interested in politics from a very early age.

Although he was pushed into studying law by his father, he took his studies seriously and passed his exams in 1927 with such excellent grades that he was offered two lucrative positions, both of which he turned down to open a law office with his friend.

Despite being politically left wing, Hans was as critical of socialist and communist parties as he was of right wing parties like the Nazis, he once said “two people would be one too many for my party.”.  Hans established himself as a lawyer who could fight the corner of workers, and became involved with the Rote Hilfe, an organisation that fought for workers’ rights until it was disbanded by the Nazis.

In 1929 the May Day rally in Berlin turned violent and th police fired into the crowds, killing 33 and injuring hundreds.  When Hans went to the aid of the injured in order to take names and statements he himself was beaten by the police.  Rather than pursue individual policemen for their actions, he filed lawsuits against the police and their commanders, trying to highlight the growing fascism in his country.

The trial that would shape his future came in 1931, for an incident a few months before in which an SA Rollkommando unit attacked the Eden Dance Palace, popular with left wing workers, killing 3 people and injuring many others.

Hitler and comrades under pressure from Hans Litten

During the trial Hans wanted to show that the Nazi party was using terror and violence, and summoned Hitler as a witness at a time when Hitler was trying to appeal to middle class voters.

When Hitler denied knowledge of the unit involved Litten interrogated him about his claim that his party was peaceful, using Goebbels’s book as evidence to show how the Nazis were not democratic or legitimate.

As Litten continued to question him for 3 hours, Hitler began to lose control and would jump to his feet and scream at Litten, unable to contradict his claims.  However, just as it seemed as if Litten was proving in court that the Nazis were violent and undemocratic, the judge decided to throw the evidence out.

From then on Litten needed bodyguards when out in public because of the threats he received from the SA, but he continued to attack them in the courts.  As the Nazis extended their power, Litten found himself being removed from trials and the high court, causing uproar among Berlin’s lawyers (even those who didn’t like him), and causing them to demand a change in the law to ensure defence lawyers are not impeded in their efforts.

Hitler never forgot, or forgave Litten, and on the night of the Reichstag fire in 1933 he was one of the first four people rounded up and taken to the concentration camps.  For the next few years he was moved from one camp to another, often picked for cruel treatment by guards as they knew of Hitler’s personal hatred for this man.

Hans Litten, a brave hero

Litten’s mother appealed to many people to have her son released, including Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, but when the Prince approached Hitler about Litten his reply was “Anyone who advocates for Litten comes in the concentration camp, even you.”.

Hans was never released, and in 1938 he was found hanged in the Dachau concentration camp.

After the war his legacy was mostly ignored by the West because of his left wing politics, while at the same time he was also ignored by the Soviet Union because he had criticised Stalin’s communist regime.

Finally, over three quarters of a century later Hans Litten is finally getting the recognition he deserved, with books and dramas based on his life.

A bust of Hans Litten at the Berlin District Court


Posted by on Saturday 20th August 2011 in History, People


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Google Doodles

Most people will have used Google as a search engine at one time or another, and you may have occasionally noticed the logo being changed for a particular date or festival.  Below is a collection of several logos used over the years, some were only used for users from particular countries, so not everyone will have seen them.

One of the earliest, released on 26th November 1998, was in celebration of Thanksgiving in the US:

The first non US logo was in France, for Bastille Day on 14th July 2000:

As the internet became more global, more countries saw important dates celebrated:

Turkish elections from 12th June 2011

Venezuela's Independence Day from 5th July 2008

Japan's Doll Festival, Hinamatsuri, from 3rd March 2009

Norway's Holmenkollen Ski Festival from 13th March 2010


Google also celebrated many globally important dates too, with Olympics often inspiring a number of logo designs, as below:

Gymnastics at the 2000 Sydney Olympics from 17th September 2000

Freestyle Skiing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics from 15th February 2002

Synchronised Swimming at 2004 Athens Olympics from 24th August 2004

Basketball at the Beijing 2008 Olympics from 14th August 2008


Other International events and celebrations which were celebrated globally:

Thomas Edison's birthday from 11th February 2011

Leap Year from 29th February 2008

Earth Day from 22nd April 2002

NASA finds water on the moon from 13th November 2009

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Posted by on Friday 5th August 2011 in Uncategorized


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