Archaeologists explore fate of Waterloo wounded

Published: 8 July 2019

A team of military veterans and serving personnel, led by professional archaeologists, are to begin excavating at the site of Wellington’s Field Hospital on the battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium.

A team of military veterans and serving personnel, led by professional archaeologists, are about to begin excavating at the site of Wellington’s Field Hospital on the world-famous battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium.

The charity Waterloo Uncovered will this week begin to explore the farm buildings of Mont St Jean, where thousands of wounded soldiers received primitive first aid during the battle of 1815, which ended in the crushing defeat of Napoleon.

University of Glasgow's Professor Tony Pollard, lead Archaeologist for the project, said: "Once the cannons opened fire, the farm buildings rapidly overflowed with the wounded. Mont St Jean became a place of suffering and endurance. It’s possible that as many as 6000 casualties passed through the place. Many men died there.

“The site has never been excavated before. As an archaeologist this is a unique opportunity to look for evidence of the battle to save lives”.

Waterloo Uncovered combines world-class archaeology with a programme of care and recovery. Many of the military personnel involved have experienced service-related wounds and injuries, or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Taking part on the Dig can help people rebuild health and confidence, learn new skills and interests and give them the chance to mix with people from a variety of backgrounds.

“It will be thought-provoking and moving to be excavating on the site of the Field Hospital. Some of our team have themselves, experienced battlefield first aid.” Says Mark Evans, Chief Executive of Waterloo Uncovered. “The men of 1815 would have hoped for very little. Many of those who survived returned to an uncertain future because of their injuries. The care and recovery process has changed so much today. Waterloo Uncovered plays its part by offering a nine-month programme of support. The Dig is just the beginning”.

The Waterloo Uncovered team comprises a mix of nationalities. Dutch military veterans will once again be working in the trenches this year, reflecting the important role played by the Duke of Wellington’s Dutch allies during the battle.

“The Battle of Waterloo changed the face of Europe” says Colonel Ludy de Vos of the Dutch Veterans’ Institute, “We’re delighted for Dutch military personnel to be standing alongside British and international colleagues at a site so important to European history."

 Waterloo Uncovered has been excavating areas of the battlefield since 2015. In that time they have made important new discoveries about the intense and bloody fighting and about the men who took part in the battle.

This year’s dig is sponsored by Annington, one of the UK’s largest providers of privately rented property and a specialist in providing property for the Ministry of Defence.

Waterloo Uncovered will be excavating at Waterloo from 9 to 19 July 2019.

Waterloo Uncovered is a charity created to carry out archaeological work across the Waterloo Battlefield and in the process support veterans and serving military personnel with their recovery, education and transition to civilian life.

The charity was founded by Mark Evans and fellow Coldstream Guards officer Charlie Foinette, Both men had studied archaeology before joining the army and serving in Afghanistan. Their frontline service convinced them that getting veterans involved in archaeology could be a useful way to help them along the road to recovery and wellbeing.

Waterloo Uncovered is comprised of five partner organisations: The Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, L-P Archaeology, Service Public de Wallonie, Ghent University and University College Roosevelt/University of Utrecht.

You can follow the progress of the dig via Waterloo Uncovered Twitter or Facebook accounts.

First published: 8 July 2019

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