Thursday, January 3, 2013

There's no 7 in Bourg St Maurice, anymore...

Apart from all the new mini-roundabouts and one-way systems that have sprouted over the summer, Bourg does feel a little different this winter. And I am sure it has to do with the departure in June of the 7th Brigade of Chasseurs Alpin to new bases in Grenoble and Varces (the French army has been subject to cuts and rationalisation of regiments in Britain).

The 'Batalion de Fer'  has been based here since 1962, although Bourg has had a military presence since Napoleonic times owing to its proximity to the Italian border and the frequent threat of invasion. With over 1000 soldiers and their dependent families the population has shrunk by about 20%. Two primary schools have closed, and the popular 7BCA ski-club, which was open to all the town's children and young people, is no more. The '7', as it was know, was widely admired by the townsfolk and a source of great local pride.

The 7 BCA was regarded as an elite regiment, with specialised skills in mountaineering and, of course, skiing. I was once startled by a group of white-clad female soldiers with machine guns skiing through the chalet garden on a night exercise, and watching battle-hardened marines learning to snow-plough on the Millerette beginner slope (the 7 also taught skiing to other units of the French Army) was certainly a sight for sore eyes!

An article in the Le Dauphiné (the local paper) yesterday describes how historically the Chasseurs Alpins were the precursors of winter sports in Savoie, and credits them with the 'democratisation of Alpinism', as  opposed to almost secretive activities of the British landed gentry discovering the Alps in the late 19th and early 20th century (although many of them such as Capt. Peter Lindsey and Col. Alfred Lunn themselves had a military skiing background).

The challenge for the town council now seems to be what to do with the extensive barracks, training grounds, workshops and hangars bequeathed to it by the Ministry of Defence for the princely sum of 1 Euro!

There is all the usual waffle about 'redynamisation' and 'valorisation', and it has to be said the town doesn't have a good track-record when it comes to big projects. Examples include the now abandoned scheme to build a mineral -water bottling plant under the station, the uncompleted multi-cinema and bowling alley complex, the thermal spa project (the crucial hot spring is in someone's back garden...) and of course the controversy-dogged National Centre for High Level Skiing (CNSHN) which is struggling to get off the ground. Plans for housing, a new town-square and a 5-star hotel are all being discussed. However, municipal money is short, the skiing industry is experiencing decline and the location of 7 BCA barracks site is far from the town centre, the station and the funicular...

The 7 will be greatly missed, so lets hope that whatever does emerge will be a fitting to tribute to their contribution to the town over the last 50 years.


  1. Hi, interesting post regarding the Barracks. Its been just under a year since you wrote the blog, so I was wondering if there have been any significant plans/developments re the site?

  2. Stumbled upon this article by chance. Ah, the 7th ! It was the bataillon where I was to be conscripted only to be sent to the 13th (BCA - Barby/Chambery) after I postponed my "appel". This was in the early 90's.
    As for the barracks I would not mind having a flat over there if the "mairie" is ready to sell me one of the blocks for a symbolic euro or even ten of them !