Working on this website has provided a means of discovering some inspiring places and stories. It has also been a way of unearthing some o...

Camp de Souge memorial: remembering 300 wartime executions

Working on this website has provided a means of discovering some inspiring places and stories. It has also been a way of unearthing some of the more horrific chapters in the recent history of Bordeaux and Gironde. The memorial to be found at the Camp de Souge military base is one such find. 

The Camp de Souge covers 7,000 acres of land to the north west of Martignas-sur-Jalle, some 20 kilometres to the west of Bordeaux. It has been a military base since 1900 and is today home to the French Army’s 13th “Régiment de dragons parachutistes”, providing accommodation and vast areas which are dedicated to training drills and manoeuvres. Souge is also a flight test centre for military and civilian unmanned aerial vehicles.

However, in July 1940, with war raging throughout Europe, the base was taken over by German forces. Over the next four years, more than 300 members of the French Resistance were to be executed here, often subsequent to their arrest by members of the Vichy régime’s police force.


The first two executions were those of lone demonstrators, followed on October 23rd 1941 by a young trade union member. The very next day, 50 prisoners were killed in retaliation for the murder of military officer Hans Reimers in Bordeaux by a communist activist. The prisoners were patriots who had been imprisoned in 1939 because of communist activities, first in central Bordeaux then at Beaudésert internment camp in Mérignac.

Executions continued the following year, most notably on September 21st 1942 when 70 people were killed. Then, in 1943, the occupier’s strategy changed: members of the Resistance movement who were arrested were instead deported to Germany to contribute to the Reich’s war industry efforts.

Tension continued to mount between the occupier and the occupied though and the horror peaked again in 1944 with 109 executions over an eight-month period at Souge, the final killing occurring on August 21st, a few days before Bordeaux was freed.

Many of Souge’s first victims were buried within the grounds of the military base. Later, bodies were either buried at nearby cemeteries and, after the War, returned to families or laid to rest at Chartreuse cemetery in central Bordeaux. Further down the line, a number of bodies were brought together in a monumental communal vault at Chartreuse, “le Caveau des Fusillés” (Vault of the Executed).

The vault and memorial at Chartreuse cemetery, Bordeaux.
Lasting tribute of the city of Bordeaux to its martyrs.
It wasn’t until 1999 that a permanent memorial was installed at Souge, in large part thanks to the tireless campaigning of an association known as Comité du Souvenir des Fusillés de Souge, who succeeded in garnering support from the general public and institutions alike.


On six glass panels, the names and ages of those known to have died at Souge are listed in
Aerial photo of firing range taken
shortly after the War (source:
www.fusilles-souge.asso.fr)
chronological order of their death. The most poignant sight is that of the scene as it would have been in the 1940s, in the shape of four wooden posts against which the prisoners would have been tied when facing the firing squad.

Solemn ceremonies of remembrance are held around October 24th of each year, the date chosen to mark that dark day in 1941. The rest of the year, the memorial remains silently tucked away within the grounds of the military. While signposted from the main roads and therefore accessible to the general public, reaching the memorial involves passing through some prominent gates and past high perimeter fences. The day I was there, I stopped at the reception of the military barracks half-expecting to be told to turn back, only for a soldier to helpfully direct me further into army territory.

Once at the memorial, the only other living beings I saw were some magnificent deer. It was eerie enough to be surrounded by vast army training grounds and signs warning of grenade throwing practice zones, but what was most disconcerting of all was the sheer silence of this place where more than 300 people were executed some 70 years ago.

"If the echo of their voice weakens, we will perish...", a reference to lines written by the French poet Paul Edwards regarding the millions of deported people who perished in Nazi concentration camps: "If the echo of their voice is extinguished, we will perish."

1 comment:

  1. If I am not mistaken, or more precisely if Lord Ashdown in his recent hour-long documentary on the mission of the "Cockleshell Heroes" is not mistaken, one of their number was executed at Souge after interrogation at the Gestapo headquarters off the Allée de Tourny in Bordeaux.

    Simon Lee
    Saint Aubin de Médoc

    ReplyDelete