General George Smith Patton was a highly decorated senior officer of the United States Army, he is best known for commanding the U.S Third Army during the Allied liberation of Normandy in June 1944. His military exploits are well noted and documented, in fact, he is seen as one of the greatest war generals to have lived, what is less known is the story of how he inadvertently caused a small French town to mourn a toilet.
During World War I in 1917, a young Colonel Patton was deployed in the village of Bourg in France. He was scouting the area for a good location to construct a new tank training school for the army to use. Tank warfare was now seen as how the Allies could turn the war in their favor and the Americans were keen to get ahead.
The story goes that one day the village mayor approached him one day notably upset and in panic. After calming the mayor down enough to talk, he questioned Patton relentlessly about why he had not been informed about the death of an American soldier. Patton was confused but did not want to look like he did not know about the death of one of his soldiers so agreed to visit the grave. And this is when the hilarious faux-pas happened, the mayor led Patton to a sad looking mound of dirt with what resembled a crossed hammered into the ground.
Hanging from the cross was a sign that said “Abandoned Rear.” This is army speak for a latrine pit meaning the mayor had confused a closed up toilet for a provisional field grave! Basically, the last soldier to have used the makeshift toilet would have filled it up and covered it completely with dirt. Patton not knowing how to react, apologized to the mayor for not informing him and was so embarrassed by the mix up decided to quickly make an exit. Eventually, he left Bourg when his unit was redeployed but he failed to ever tell the mayor or locals the truth about the grave!
Later during the height of WW2, the now General Patton traveled through Bourg to see his old HQ where he was enthusiastically greeted by the locals. They were eager to show him that the grave of “Abandoned Rear” had not been forgotten. The situation took an even funnier turn when Patton realized that the locals even treated the “fallen soldier” as some type of national hero. Yet Patton could not bring himself to tell them the truth, so that is how he made the small French town of Bourg to respectfully maintain the grave of a toilet!