The British Limbless Ex-Service Men Association (BLESMA) offered its members the opportunity to join the Waterloo Uncovered team of 2016. John, a Falkland’s veteran, therefore signed up and was excited to try something new. He’d always been interested in watching archeology, but had never actually done any before.
“I also visited the site as a tourist 40 years ago and often wondered what would be under the ground,” he added, “so here I am trying to find out!” John was happy to confirm that after two weeks he got all he came for: “I learned a great deal about the battle, got to meet new people, learned about their experiences and most importantly, it got me out of my armchair! The whole experience has been very good and I am very grateful to the charity. When I get home I will certainly advertise the project to make people aware of it and show them what a great time I had.”
Stewart heard about the project through the charity Breaking Ground Heritage and wanted to join for the archeology as well as for the therapeutic aspect of it all. “It’s a great way to make yourself feel useful in the world, doing something that’s worthwhile, making difference in recording history, and it’s a privilege to be working with the experts and everyone around. It’s really good to meet people who give you so much and it’s important to have the veterans who understand you and accept you like unconditional family. There’s a sort of specialness when there’s the sort of company that we have got over here, and, to be honest, it’s better than any therapy I’ve been through”.
After serving 6 years in the army, Rob wanted to help other veterans with psychological and physical injuries. He got in touch with Waterloo Uncovered through the charity Breaking Ground Heritage, and was more than happy to be invited to come over. About his experience at the farm he said, “Before coming over here I was hoping to get some experience in archeology, but after the two weeks, I got a lot more than that.” He’s met a very interesting bunch of people, loved hanging out with veterans and serving soldiers and had an absolutely brilliant time. On his last day at site, he said “I already want to get back out and do it again”.
Bobby found out about Waterloo Uncovered through his ties with the charity Combat Stress. He is a great fan of TimeTeam, and followed the program for years, because of his love for archeology and his interest in history.“It was just too good of an opportunity to miss!”, he said, “I wanted to learn more about archeology and I knew there was gonna be veterans. Always good to catch up!”. And, Bobby had a fantastic time indeed, not just in catching up with soldiers and veterans, but also in getting to know such a mix of people. He loved to see how everyone’s so different, but still work really well together. He summed up his days on site by, “We worked hard, but laughed hard as well!”
Chris, a veteran from the parachute regiments, was introduced to Waterloo Uncovered through his work at Help for Heroes. He was mind blown by the scale of the Battle of Waterloo and wanted to learn more about it. “I’m here where it all actually happened, on site, digging up weapons and musket balls that were used in the battle”, he explained. “I can now actually picture what it must have looked like, in my mind”. Throughout his stay on site Chris learned all sorts of things about archeology and he described it as very enjoyable. He added, “I loved finding out about history and meeting funny people. It’s good to be here, gives me something to smile about when I get back home”.
When Sean found out that he was going to be medically discharged from the army, he realised that it was time to try something new. He therefore joined the project in 2015, and soon found out that it was one of the best things he’d been a part of in a long time — and came back with a role of greater responsibility in 2016. “I’m proud to say that I have been part of Waterloo Uncovered. I obviously couldn’t resist but coming back again this year! I found love for the project and the best part of it all is the friendships I took away from it.”
As a veteran and a post graduate archeologist, Midge got a whole lot out of his two-week experience at Waterloo Uncovered. “I love archeology, I have a degree in it! But due to my illness I haven’t been able to do it for 6 years now. That’s because my depression has been very bad and meant that I really closed myself away from people. I’d just sit at home staring at walls”, he explained. “Two weeks ago I wouldn’t have been able to speak to you like this. Being around people really frightened me, but everybody has been so nice and understanding. I felt more relaxed than I have in a long time and I believe it’s a privilege to be here. I will never forget the people here for giving me this wonderful opportunity and helping me in some way to see the world differently, despite the issues that I have. I locked myself away from the world and I know that that’s not healthy so this has made me feel so much better. I’ll be forever grateful for that”.
Knowing that Lewis is really into history, the charity Combat Stress put Lewis in touch with Waterloo Uncovered. “I wanted to join to get more knowledge on the battle and get a better understanding of what it must have been like”, he said. “It’s hard to imagine what those soldiers have been through, with thousands of men charging at you. In Afghan I didn’t always know who was charging at me, while back then it was such different tactics.” Lewis indeed expanded his knowledge and experienced the joy of archeology. “I really liked finding things! And I know it’s not all about that, as Emily keeps on telling me, but it’s just the best thing to pick up something thinking wow! Someone shot this out of his rifle over 200 years ago, that’s pretty amazing!” Besides the archeology, Lewis also loved the people on site. “It’s been good for me because with the soldiers and the vets I can feel normal again. Back home I’m just another person but with veterans you can be your old self again, with the dark humour and the banter. It’s a privilege to be here.”
Ash, one of our Coldstream Guards, got involved in Waterloo uncovered through his regiment. When he was offered the opportunity to help out at the farm, he was happy to join in order to try out something new. Throughout his stay Ash learned a lot of new skills and loved working with his team in Emily’s trench. “I loved the banter and it was good to speak with the veterans here. They’ve been through things we can relate to so we all just bond naturally. If I could, I’d join again next year!”
The charity Help for Heroes introduced Anna to the project because they knew it might be something for her. Anna then happily signed up to become part of the team and added that “It was something that interested me and it didn’t matter that I have a disability. My wheelchair wasn’t going to be a problem”. She was hoping to gain experience in something new and ended up loving it. “I liked digging holes, obviously having been in the military! But also loved the days in the finds room, cleaning up the found materials”. The best part to Anna was when she was given a big block of sand which, upon cleaning it, turned out to be a beautiful piece of chain. Thinking of her days in Waterloo, she said “I felt like part of the team and everyone has been so welcoming. It’s great to be around the military again and enjoy the banter! It’s been an honour to be part of it all and it’s kind of sad to go home”.
Ben found himself to be of great help at Waterloo Uncovered, despite his disability of being in a wheelchair. “No one is useless and there’s a task for anyone. Some days I would go to the bottom of a trench, have someone pass me a shovel and start digging.” His efforts paid off as he found musket balls that were fired over 200 years ago, which he described as “quite a moment”. The experience not only provided him with archeological knowledge, but also a whole lot of contacts he could ring up anytime for a nice chat or some advice. “My stay was a whole lot more than a 10-day experience”, he added. The project had inspired Ben to make a career out of archeology and the team can provide contacts in the industry. It was an honour for Ben to have taken part in the project.
After his experience serving in the British Military, Keith could relate PTSD patients and wanted to help them. He felt that Waterloo Uncovered was a great way for him to make a contribution. Being fascinated by the whole project made things even more exciting. “To actually go there and dig in the sacred ground, it just doesn’t get any better!” The great mix of people made his experience even more enjoyable. There were Dutch, British and Belgians varying from young to old, professionals and students. He described his stay as a fantastic experience and added, “You can go on a holiday and something will always go wrong, but here everything’s just perfect!”
A Coldstream Guards and Operation Nightingale veteran. Mark left the army with PTSD and has written about the experience in his book Code Black. He has attended Nightingale excavations in the UK and Cyprus and also has a master’s degree in archaeology
Major Charlie Foinette
Coldstream Guards Company Commander with a long-standing interest in Waterloo and a master’s degree in archaeology