Veteran & Serving Military Personnel (VSMP) Programme

At the core of Waterloo Uncovered (WU) are the serving personnel and veterans (SPV) who form such an integral part of the team. SPV are offered a unique opportunity to take part in excavating one of the world’s most famous battlefields. At the same time, they are offered support and encouragement with their wellbeing, recovery (from both mental and physical injury), education, personal development, and assistance with the inevitable (although not always planned) transition from military to civilian life. Because of the support and benefits on offer the SPV can add great value to the project. For example, their real‐life experiences of the military and exposure to conflict can provide valuable insights that aid the interpretation of the archaeological finds and help us towards a better understanding of the battle of Waterloo and those who fought in it.

The Programme

Who WU Helps and How It Finds Participants

Participants are not limited to those with physical or mental injuries but those who we feel would benefit most from inclusion and provide us with a diverse and energetic group. We treat people as individuals. The programme is tailored towards their needs whether those be recovery, transition, wellbeing, employment and education, and always with a wider focus on the group dynamic. 

Serving Personnel (SP)

Defined as and including those currently employed by the Army, Navy and Air Force, in a regular (full‐time), reservist (part‐time), or training capacity (including the Officers Training Corps (OTC) and Cadet Force, although participation in WU is currently only available to those over 18 years of age). In the UK, there are currently just under 200,000 SP.

SP primarily come to the project via ARC referral and approaches to (or from) individual military units.


In 2015/16 veterans were actively recruited from the UK only. UK veterans are defined as those who have served in the British Armed Forces for at least one day (which would include a single day in training). There are currently around 2.6 million veterans out of a population of 63.6 million (approximately 4% of our population).

Veterans are recruited through established organisations such as Help For Heroes, Walking With The Wounded, The Royal British Legion and Regimental Associations. We also find veteran participants through word‐of‐mouth, online, and through individual applications so as not to exclusively offer opportunities to those already under the care of a large organisation.

It is worth noting that other nations’ definitions of ‘veteran’ differ. In the Netherlands, for instance, ‘veteran’ is defined as a person with Dutch nationality who served the Kingdom of the Netherlands under combat conditions. For the purpose of this document, we will use the UK definition for all participants. 

Application and Selection.

A comprehensive selection process has been developed combining an online application form with a two‐stage interview process. This is designed to ensure we select the right participants who can do the work and be the most likely to benefit from it. Understanding their needs is key, as is their understanding of what the project aims are and what it offers them. Those selected continue to be supported and engaged by project staff all the way up to the day of the trip to ensure they get the most from the experience.

Care is taken to inform unsuccessful candidates in an appropriate and considered fashion. They are encouraged and provided them with information to apply to other (UK based) archaeological excavations that cater for SPV. In certain cases, they are told about and encouraged to contact other charities and services that might be able to help with an individual’s needs.  

The Summer Excavation

Explore different aspects in the below tabs:

Two weeks in the summer for 15 days and 14 nights (Saturday to Saturday, usually in July).

The ‘X’ Factor.

One of the key factors to the success of WU is the diversity and make‐up of the team. WU is a project that has military participants but a non‐military feel. The core excavation team (those on site every day) consists of approximately 50 people. This includes 20 SPV, 20 archaeologists and support staff and 10 students. Not all of them are British and up to a third of the team are female.

We aim to try and net a deliberate mix of people, some with similar and some from more diverse backgrounds. This gives us a rare mix of a large spectrum of contributors. There is something special about a diverse group of people coming together to share aims, experiences and achievements which is a bit like life and certainly of benefit to those SPV who may have spent more time in a less than diverse environment.

Some examples of this diversity are given below:

Although part of the same career/life cycle (a soldier, sailor or airman/woman will become a veteran) serving personnel and veterans find far less time and occasion to mix with each other than you would imagine. Soldiers are busy on operations and veterans (as with all civilians) must adjust to restricted access to the military world. Providing an opportunity for the two groups to meet can help them share information and experiences that both groups can benefit from. SP get a chance to see what future life might look like (good and not‐so‐good) and the veterans get to see something of the life they left behind, and maybe a glimpse of the person they used to be (again for better or worse).

S.P.V. Benefits

The WU programme is non‐clinical, but over the course of its first two years has measured and recorded the following benefits to our SPV:

Recover and soldier on. This is what the clear majority of injured soldiers want to do, rather than be Medically Discharged. The military is their chosen career and one they have worked hard to achieve and they want to get back to it. The military, in turn, are very keen to see soldiers they have trained return to active service and so invest a significant amount of time and resources in medical care and recovery. The mental/motivational aspect is key. Both Charlie and Mark could recall Guardsmen going through recovery, unable to participate in active service, and becoming dejected and even spiralling into the depths of depression.

The idea of sending recovering soldiers on a project to boost their morale and keep them active whilst they recover is supported by the Coldstream Guards medical personnel and commanders. The experience also offers a chance for personnel development, being exposed to several new circumstances and skills (found in civilian life) that could benefit them and their military careers. At the very worst, they have further experience that can be added to a CV to demonstrate wider employability at a later stage.

Post Excavation And Long‐Term Support

WU primarily exists to support SPV whilst on the excavation. The experience and responsibility however doesn’t always end there and there are several other ways WU supports and engages with SPV:

Community Building

…has been made easier with the development of social media and WU uses Facebook to stay in touch with its participants and encourages them to stay in touch with each other; continuing to develop friendships and new found interests in Waterloo, archaeology and history. For some this is a pathway to interactions they might otherwise not have had, or haven’t experienced for a long time.

Further Study

…of Waterloo is encouraged and is a great way for SPV to continue their involvement with the project, and benefit it.

Outreach and Engagement

…are two of the project aims and it has been great to include SPV in this. WU has an annual presence at the Chalke Valley History Festival, and has taken SPV to give lectures (often alongside archaeologists) at clubs and societies across the country. It is not only great for the project to publicise itself and tell the public about its results, it is often a huge achievement for the SPV involved to speak to an audience, and a very empowering experience to tell their stories.


…those who need help to the organisations who can provide it. Putting people in touch with the right help is vital as the SPV charity and support world is complicated and sadly, although options are available, SPV are not the greatest at asking for or taking help.

Wider Benefits

Archaeologists, students and volunteers

…taking part in the programme have reported many of the same benefits our veterans experience including improvements in a sense of wellbeing, social inclusion, recovery, new learning and personal development. This is not entirely surprising, but very reassuring nonetheless.

Inspired by their contact with SPV, some have been motivated and encouraged to do more work with disadvantaged people. They have all taken something in the way of acceptance and goodwill back into their lives and jobs.

The Wider Public

…learn about archaeology, history, the battle of Waterloo and the issues that face our SPV. We anticipate that this may lead to wider social understanding and better integration of SPV in society.

Most importantly WU is helping people better understand the consequences of war.

Future Aims And Development

We plan to work closely with the Veterans and Families Institute, Anglia Ruskin University to conduct a study into the benefits WU and archaeology offer serving personnel and veterans. This study will not only influence the support and work at WU but should arm the wider Veteran support community with important information based on the study outcomes.

WU aims to include other nationalities’ militaries and veterans in the programme, with our Dutch, French, Belgian and German allies being our priority. In particular we are building a strong relationship with the Dutch

The project will continue to support 20 or more UK serving personnel and veterans a year with our fieldwork, and support and include more in research, outreach and post‐excavation work.

Our goal is to deliver at least 5 years more archaeological work at Waterloo that will contribute significantly to the understanding of the battle and support SPV in the process.