More background info:
Despite the French-looking name, it was actually taken from German engineer Hauptmann (Captain) Hans Marguerre, who came here from Berlin
, where he had already been working in the field of making and building with concrete. In this well camouflaged forest location, some 10 miles (15 km) from the German front line at Verdun,
he set up an experimental concrete factory in 1915. Concrete bunkers and fortifications were gaining more and more significance at the time, and so different types of concrete were made and studied here, and prototype bunkers constructed. It was part of the “Spezialabteilung Beton-Fabrik” (‘special department concrete factory’), or BeFa, for short.
Captain Marguerre had his own private residence here, and in addition to the factory and various types of bunkers, the place also functioned as a rest camp for soldiers relieved from service at the front, especially in 1916, and had its own casino, where soldiers could watch films, for instance.
Apart from the experimental concrete bunkers and buildings on site, concrete made here was also used in the construction of other camps in the area as well as for the emplacement for a “Langer Max” 380mm gun at nearby Duzey (see below), which then took part in the shelling of Verdun at the beginning of the battle on 21 February 1916.
For more on that battle see under Verdun
After 1918, at the end of the war, the Germans retreated and the site was abandoned. Locals looted all the glass from the windows and the interior fittings and left just empty shells. However, during the occupation of France
by Nazi Germany
, members of the French Resistance used the bunkers of Camp Marguerre as a hideout, which is of course not without its own bit of irony.
Today the structures just stand silently in the forest, but various information boards have been erected to provide background context and historical photos.
What there is to see: As you walk from the car park into the forest the first buildings become visible amongst the trees. There are also six information panels in French, German and English dotted around the site. Interestingly, the German translations tend to be noticeably better than the often clumsy and structurally awkward English. But they’re still good enough for getting the gist. The panels also include a map with a suggested route, and many have historical photos (some rare, some staged by/for propaganda) and explanations of different parts of the camp and their functions, as well as more general context.
The first building you come to looks almost like a regular single-storey house, though it too is made of concrete. This was in fact the Villa Marguerre, i.e. where Captain Marguerre himself and the other engineers lived. Note the elaborate decorations above the windows. Above the door there’s a semi-broken bas-relief inscription that says/said: “Erbaut von der BeFa unter Leitung […] [Hauptmann] Marguerre” (‘built by the BeFa under the direction of Captain Marguerre’), “BeFa” meaning “Beton-Fabrik”, ‘concrete factory’. Inside you can spot some more decorations on the inner wall. They certainly tried to make this place homely.
While you can enter this engineers’ villa, warning signs prohibit entering any of the bunkers. And you can see why: one structure is semi-collapsed and peeking into the bunkers you see plenty of fallen debris, so it’s probably unsafe to go inside and better to heed the signs. I also spotted bats flying around, so there’s another reason to stay away.
The bunkers behind Villa Marguerre are of different designs, some with rounded roofs, others are more boxy. Most are overgrown. In fact the bunkers were covered with a layer of soil and vegetation for further camouflage, so this is not just nature reclaiming the camp.
To the west of the bunkers and Villa Marguerre are the remnants of what was the concrete factory. Not much of this is left, just some foundations. Further west still are some buildings that formed part of the living quarters, including the former casino, so these were part of the rest camp (see above
). The others are officers’ buildings, as the panels point out, which also mention that in addition to these concrete structures there used to be lots of wooden barracks for soldiers. Hardly a trace of these huts is left today.
In terms of WW1
military history this may not be the richest of sites, but it is a rare example of a German facility of the rear rather than the front. In fact it is pretty much unique in that sense. More than through the history, though, this site impresses with its great atmospheric aura, like an enchanted village in a fairy tale setting. This is especially enhanced by the “curtains” of foliage that fall over some of the windows. It’s thus also great for photography. It was also eerily quiet when I visited the site. I never saw any other visitors, and occasional birdsong was the only sound to be heard apart from twigs and dried leaves crunching under my feet.
All in all, I found that this was a worthy last stop on my eight-day tour of the Western Front. More atmospheric than historically significant in terms of battlefield tourism, and it brought a nice ghost-town atmospheric element into play as well, which is something I am generally quite fond of. Give me that any time instead of yet more trenches! So Camp Marguerre was for me a rather special place and I’m glad I made the effort (which it is) of getting there. A pretty “secret” little gem (in German, one would say “ein Geheimtipp”).
a bit over 2.5 miles (4 km) south-west of the village of Loison, in the middle of a forest, ca. 12 miles (20 km) north-east of the city of Verdun
Access and costs: quite hidden, but not too difficult to find; free
to get there you absolutely need your own vehicle. The secluded site is best reached from the nearby village of Loison, from where it is signposted. Coming from Verdun
first take the D603 out of town in an easterly direction. At the roundabout near Eix, take the fourth exit heading north on the D24. Where this merges with the D65, make a sharp turn right, and then turn left on to the D105, signposted for Billy. If you use Google Maps or some other GPS navigation device you may at some point be asked to turn right on to some rough track in the middle of the forest. Ignore this and carry on all the way to Billy. There turn right on to the D14 towards Loison. In Loison drive almost to the southern end of the village and turn right. There are signs for Camp Marguerre here, but they are small, so pay close attention. This road goes along the edge of the forest, through some fields and eventually leads into the forest. There’s another signpost here but it’s not very clear and can be partially hidden by foliage, but do carry on straight into the forest. This is a narrow single-track road. There’s another sign for the Camp where a road forks off to the right. Stay on the left here. This road then ends at the small car park for Camp Marguerre, where there is also an information board. From here you have to walk. A map on one of the panels suggests a route and admonishes you not to stray off the suggested route or pick up any metal objects (although I’m not sure any UXO could be found here so far from the former front line).
The site is freely accessible at all times, but coming here in the dark would be nonsensical and potentially dangerous.
Time required: about an hour or slightly under.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see generally under Verdun
A related site is the emplacement of a “Langer Max” 380mm super-heavy gun near Duzey some 5 miles (8 km) to the north-east of Camp Marguerre. The emplacement, made from concrete produced at Camp Marguerre, is still there (now partially flooded) but not the original gun. To partially make up for that, the French have put up a slightly smaller but still impressively large 305mm gun barrel opposite the car park. Other than the emplacement, there are some other original vestiges, such as bunkers and remnants of a narrow-gauge rail line, probably for the transport of shells. One giant “Langer Max” shell is on display, standing upright, over six and half feet (2m) tall!
To get there drive back to Loison, and at the northern end of the village make a sharp right turn off the D14 until you come to a T-junction. Turn left here and at the fork in the road, about a hundred yards on, take the right one towards Muzeray. In that village you join the D105 again. Carry on straight along that road until you come to an unnumbered little road turning off to the left signposted “Site du Canon Allemand de 380mm”. Keep going until you come to another such sign pointing left. The road ends at a car park for the site and there are some information panels too.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see in particular under Verdun
- Camp Marguerre 01 - remote location in the forest
- Camp Marguerre 02 - almost normal houses
- Camp Marguerre 03 - ornamented facade
- Camp Marguerre 04 - no longer properly decypherable
- Camp Marguerre 05 - remnants of interior decoration
- Camp Marguerre 06 - more buildings deeper in the forest
- Camp Marguerre 07 - rounded bunker
- Camp Marguerre 08 - inside
- Camp Marguerre 09 - semi-collapsed building
- Camp Marguerre 10 - vegetation taking over
- Camp Marguerre 11 - green growth
- Camp Marguerre 12 - overgrown bunker
- Camp Marguerre 13 - looking in
- Camp Marguerre 14 - looking out
- Camp Marguerre 15 - curtains of green