Finding peace with painting - a model example of improving veteran mental health

Waterloo Uncovered, the groundbreaking charity that combines world class archaeology with veteran care and recovery, has launched an exhibition called Waterloo Remodelled.

Created by veterans whose wellbeing has been improved by the therapeutic aspects of model painting, this expansive new diorama brings to life one of the most famous land battles in history. 

Highlights from the model will be hosted in the National Army Museum from the 20th to the 23rd of October 2021 alongside some of Waterloo Uncovered's archaeological finds from the battlefield  

Retired Major General James Cowan, a Trustee of Waterloo Uncovered, has led this important initiative which not only incorporates modern research into the battle, but has also been a calming and therapeutic outlet for a number of veterans and serving military personnel whose mental and physical health has been impacted by their military service. 

Waterloo Remodelled is the product of years of dedicated work, technical skill and more recently, international collaboration between veterans utilising the cutting edge archaeological research of Waterloo Uncovered and partners including the University of Glasgow.

Professor Tony Pollard, Waterloo Uncovered's Academic lead, who is also Professor of Conflict History and Archaeology and Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, said: “The veterans on our team have had first-hand experience of close-quarter fighting in walled compounds in Iraq or Afghanistan – very like the layout of Hougoumont which played such a key role in the Battle of Waterloo. It’s a uniquely valuable perspective for an archaeologist to have."

Speaking about the exhibition, Professor Pollard added: “I’m delighted with this creative collaboration involving Waterloo Uncovered. We recognised the therapeutic benefits of model painting back in 2019, when the University of Glasgow hosted the Great Game. This was the biggest tabletop wargame ever played using 28mm figures, with over 22,000 of them deployed in weekend rematch which raised £20,000 for Waterloo Uncovered (Wellington won again). This time, the idea is to create a scale model of the entire battle, with highlights such as the French attack on Hougoumont, and the Prussian assault on the village of Plancenoit, frozen in time. It’s a tremendous undertaking and I can’t wait to see our team’s handiwork on display.”

The model captures a snapshot of the battlefield at its dramatic climax, around 6pm on the 18th June, 1815. As the model is too large to exhibit in its entirety at this time, this exhibition focusses on Hougoumont, Mont-Saint-Jean, La Haye Sainte, Papelotte, Plancenoit and La Belle Alliance. 

It features 30,000 figures hand-painted by an international team of veterans and volunteers, which capture the sheer scale of the battle while highlighting small vignettes of individual soldiers locked in a bloody fight for survival.  The model is growing rapidly and when it is complete, it will contain over 120,000 figures and will cover an area the size of a tennis court.

First published: 20 October 2021