WU People: Sam Wilson

Sam Wilson, explaining the lifecycle of a trench to participants

Sam Alexander Wilson (30) is a professional archaeologist from Basingstoke. He’s been part of the Waterloo Uncovered team right from the start, and  has seen how much impact it can make a person -for the good. 

For Sam, it’s his fourth year on the dig as a supervisor. This year has been quite a different experience. “For the first time, we have been allowed to dig trenches at another key point of the Battle of Waterloo,” he explains. “La Haye Sainte was an important outpost of Wellington’s line, right on the road which the French were taking to march to Brussels. Across the valley you can see the building from where Napoleon watched the battle developing -La Belle Alliance. From studying accounts of the battle, we think there might be some interesting finds in this area.” One example is the Sand Pit, where a number of British soldiers might have been buried. Nearby is the position held by the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who were cut down by French cannon. It is Sam’s mission to uncover archaeological evidence of either of these events. “We are fairly certain that we have located the Sand Pit, so I wonder what we will find! Personally, this location really speaks to me — I remember learning about it as a young child. That makes me really excited.” During the interview, participants continuously walk up to Sam to have their finds checked out before being carefully bagged, labelled and their position plotted for further analysis..

The average age of his group of participants is higher than in previous years. “You get a fresh experience every year. I get to know them a bit, and I learn of their different experiences.” Doing archaeology is hard work, but I can see that it helps people,” Sam says. “It’s systematic, physical work, and you don’t really have to think about anything else. Some veterans find the opportunity to focus on one task very therapeutic.” He has watched participants who were reluctant to talk to others at first,  laughing and chatting away after only a few nights. “Some people haven’t been out of their homes for more than two years before coming here. It’s really good to see that happen.”

The project has a greater impact than I could have imagined,” Sam admits. “It has helped out more people than just veterans — it’s really mentally beneficial for everyone. This includes myself — it has lent me a different perspective in difficult times — it gives you some perspective on your own life when you meet new people and learn about their issues. In the end, you walk away refreshed.” Waterloo Uncovered manages to offer participants a non‐judgmental environment, where people can really open up to each other. “Groups that don’t usually interact mingle so well together, especially the archaeologists and the veterans — we’re all new when we first arrive, and so we will just sit down and chat.”

Coming to Waterloo has been my boyhood dream,” he laughs. “How am I ever going to beat this? I’m glad they keep inviting me back, and I will come with for as long as they let me.”