Leeds nostalgia: US general vilified for comments to children

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In an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post on this day in 1945, US General George Patton, a celebrated and yet controversial figure, hit the headlines after apparently telling a group of young Sunday schoolchildren they were ‘the soldiers of the next war’.

Under its ‘gossip of the day’ column, the YEP reprinted a letter from an imaginary soldier speaking from beyond the grave, which first appeared in the US Force’s Stars and Stripes magazine.

It ran thus: “Another war - not 100 years from now but right around the corner? I do not know what the other 29,999 did but I turned in my grave.

“Please don’t tell us that General; no, not just now. Don’t say it again to our families and do not say it to the world, when all decent nations are trying to build a peace of some kind.

“We thought you were a great soldier. We still do but we ask one little favour - just stay a soldier and leave the peace to those who are working their hearts out to make it stick. And stay out of my little brother’s Sunday school class He still thinks I died to make a better world for him.”

In his defence, the General said: “I do not want people to get the idea I am a warmonger but having been through two world wars and experienced the anguish of commanding men who were wounded or killed due to lack of training, I think it is stupid to run the risk of not being adequately prepared for another war.”

Patton, born in 1885, was a US general, who commanded the Seventh US Army in the Mediterranean and Europe but is best known for his leadership of the Third US Army in France and Germany following the Allied invasion of Normandy. He died in Germany on December 21, 1945, as a result of injuries from an car accident there twelve days earlier.