Cassandra Gleeson

Summer excavation 2015

Cassie was a Medic in the Royal Air Force for 6 years. During a NLP course, she heard about the Defence Archaeology Group, and about Waterloo Uncovered. While she her passion was more for Tudor history than the Battle of Waterloo, after a bit of reading, she was excited to learn more — and to get out there meet new people and learn new skills.

When she met the group she was struck by how friendly everyone was. “I ended up in the back of a land rover with Ben, Lee, Keith, and Gary. We all chatted like mad during the drive and I received the typical teasing I always get for being in the RAF. It turned out that Ben, Lee, and Keith were all Coldstream Guard veterans and also new to archaeology. It wasn’t until we got onto the ship to cross the channel that I noticed that Ben was a double amputee.” A strong friendship eventually developed between the two.

After arriving in Waterloo, on the first day, everyone on the team got to introduce themselves (“a lot more ‘RIF RAF’ banter my way”) and then headed out to learn more about the battle. A couple of tours and lesson about the Battle of Waterloo later, teams were formed and given their jobs for the day. For Cassie, “My job was helping to dig a MASSIVE trench. Turns out, I was completely incompetent at digging and needed to learn fast (us RAF tend to leave the digging to the Army). But I did make some lifelong friends. I got the chance to work with Gary [Craig] as he showed me how to use metal detectors to find hidden evidence. This I fell completely in love with – my first find was a horse’s reign, which I found very exciting. Every artefact found was logged and a white flag placed where we found it. At first I wasn’t sure why we did this, but was then shown by Mike [Johnson], one of the L – P : Archaeology guys, the digital map of where each of our finds had been surveyed. Then Tony [Pollard] explained the distribution of the musket balls, which were proving and disproving history. Suddenly I was fascinated and I finally understood why so many steps had been taken. We weren’t just looking for treasure, we were proving history!

I was only able to stay the first week but that one week really did have such a positive impact on my life. Although I worked in the military, I didn’t really get to see the aftercare of wounded veterans. Suddenly I was working with and befriending real heroes, veterans with severe PTSD, missing limbs and chronic pain. I noticed throughout the week a change in quite a few of them. In Ben alone, he went from avoiding people to being in the thick of it. No one saw his disability – we all saw a hard-working, eager to learn, crazy as hell, mate. We all took the mick out of each other but were also there for one another. I was so inspired by Ben and his story that I ended up naming my son after him. Here was a man who had a real passion for helping those with mental health problems, a man who gained his confidence back by the bucket load and who, despite what was thrown at him, managed to keep his amazing humour.

I have met up with Ben and Lee since the dig and was thrilled to discover that most of us have all kept in touch. When Lee became homeless one of the archaeologists had even given him a place to stay, Ben has continued to be involved in archaeology. I haven’t been able to join another dig myself due to pregnancy but I truly would love to. Digging those trenches, as it turns out, was totally worth it. For the friends I made, the humbling experience, the interest into the battle and if anything, I have become quite a good gardener.”

Cassie in 2015