December Dig Diary

Welcome to the latest edition of Waterloo Uncovered’s Dig Diary

By Hattie Ford

In this end of year edition:

  • We review a challenging but successful 2020;
  • We look ahead to 2021 and the future of Waterloo Uncovered.

2020: An Unprecedented Year

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and as a small charity we too were affected. Unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, our annual summer excavation in Belgium had to be cancelled for the first time since the charity’s inception in 2015. Like everyone, we have had to adapt to these unprecedented, challenging circumstances, to ensure that we could still provide support to Veterans and Serving Military Personnel (VSMP), even if it could not be in person this year.

With the help of the Waterloo Uncovered community, our VSMP participants, our staff and volunteers and our supporters, we have managed to make a success of 2020, despite the changes and difficulties it has brought with it. We have celebrated our 5th anniversary, adapted our Veterans’ Programme to one that could be delivered virtually, launched a range of exciting new content, and even managed to continue our archaeological work, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Read on to find out how we have managed to keep calm and carry on in 2020 – and where we’re headed in 2021. 

Veteran Support Goes Virtual

To replace our annual excavation in Belgium, we created an online Virtual Programme of activities, education and wellbeing support to help people through lockdown by overcoming social isolation. Nineteen UK Veterans and Serving Personnel completed the 12-week programme, as well as international participants from the Netherlands and the United States. The programme included lectures from leading battlefield archaeology experts and military historians, seminars and group activities via Google Hangouts, virtual visits to the British Museum and National Army Museum, all alongside support from our Welfare Team throughout the process.

In addition, forty six people, including 22 Veteran and Serving Military Personnel beneficiaries of Waterloo Uncovered, graduated from our international online course in Battlefield Archaeology with academic credits from Utrecht University. Participants came from the UK and the Netherlands, and as far afield as the United States, Peru and Japan. Read about the 2021 course and how you can get involved here.

We have continued our veteran support in other areas this year, too, as we have continued to fulfil our goal of helping veterans transition to civilian life and develop new skills and opportunities. Currently, two of our veteran participants are embarking on full time archaeology degree courses, inspired by their time with Waterloo Uncovered. In addition, two veterans have graduated from a work experience programme to become full time staff members at Waterloo Uncovered; and one veteran has even begun work as a professional archaeologist at L-P Archaeology this year!

Archaeological Advances

Although we were unfortunately prevented from carrying out our annual excavation in Belgium this summer, we were still able to continue some of our archaeological activities despite the circumstances. Work has continued where possible on identifying, cataloguing and preserving our finds from the battlefield of Waterloo, and work is currently being carried out on our online finds database, to make our finds more accessible to the public and our supporters. Cleaning and analysis of the amputated human limb bones discovered at Mont-Saint-Jean by Waterloo Uncovered last year has also continued in 2020, at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

Archaeologist Caroline Laforest examining the bones at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

Forensic experts analysing the limbs discovered that several of the bones were preserved well enough that marks from the surgeon’s saw used to amputate them could still be identified. The injuries – including tibia, fibula and femur fractures – that were the likely cause of the amputations were also evident on several of the bones. One of the lower leg bones even contained half of the musket ball that caused the injury, still embedded in the lower half of the thigh!

Despite being unable to dig in Belgium, we were still able to give our Virtual Programme participants some hands-on archaeological experience this year, through taking part in a test pitting event. Test pitting is a small-scale and cheap archaeological technique used to get an idea of what archaeological features and finds a site might contain, when conducting a full-scale excavation is not possible. It involves digging a small pit, and carefully excavating any artefacts within it. These artefacts provide a sample of the potential of the site as a whole.

Before digging their test pit, the participants created a Desk Based Assessment, a document containing research on the historical background of a location and what archaeological work had previously been carried out there. Then, participants dug a 1m by 1m test pit in their gardens, supported virtually by our archaeologists throughout the process. Finds included pieces of clay pipe, animal bone, tile, pottery, embossed glass and flint. For more information, you can read a summary of one of our Test Pits in Yarm, or our Test Pit in Leyland.

Participants digging a test pit with the virtual support of our archaeologists.

In other news, we have recently welcomed a new member of our archaeological team: a PhD student who will undertake an ambitious project entitled Waterloo Uncovered: Using Large-Scale Geophysical Survey to Investigate the World’s Most Famous Battlefield. As part of a collaboration between Waterloo Uncovered, Bournemouth University and Ghent University, the PhD candidate will help us undertake the first ever systematic geophysical survey of the whole Waterloo battlefield. Their work will guide our archaeologists in deciding where to open trenches and where to focus our excavation efforts for the next five to ten years of the project. You can read more about geophysical survey at Waterloo and what the PhD project with entail here.

Spreading the Word

This year, we’ve released a huge amount of new content to share our work with our supporters and keep you entertained over lockdown. Over the summer, we launched a series of mini-documentaries highlighting our archaeological discoveries from last year’s excavations; a new series of lectures from experts such as Professor Tony Pollard; Time Team’s Phil Harding and Dr Stuart Eve known as the Lockdown Lectures series; and a brand new podcast series featuring interviews with some of the world’s leading Napoleonic historians such as Andrew Roberts and broadcaster Peter Snow. This content has been very well received; our YouTube channel alone has attracted over 700,000 views and 11,000 subscribers over the summer! We hope to produce more Lockdown Lectures and episodes of our Visiting Historians podcast next year, so make sure you’re subscribed to our YouTube channel and are following us on social media so you don’t miss out.

We also released our Peace from War Impact Report earlier this year, a comprehensive report which presented the evidence for how participants in our 2019 wellbeing and support programme were helped to make real and sustained improvements in their mental wellbeing, as well as a summary of last year’s archaeological discoveries. The report was circulated throughout Parliament and was covered in the Times, Telegraph and Herald newspapers. If you missed it, you can read our 2019 Impact Report here.

This year, our work has been featured in articles in the British Medical Association’s monthly magazine The Doctor, the Heritage Alliance’s report entitled Heritage, Health and Wellbeing, the Army Museums Ogilby Trust’s Annual Report, the journal Digital War, and Current World Archaeology. We have also attended conferences and taken part in virtual events at the National Army Museum, DigVentures’ virtual DigNation Festival, the Second Modern Conflict Symposium held at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference, and several Heritage Alliance conferences.

Recognition and Support

In 2020, Waterloo Uncovered received recognition for our achievements in preserving the battlefield of Waterloo, and in veteran welfare and recovery, from a variety of sources.

Earlier this year, Waterloo Uncovered’s co-founders Charles Foinette and Mark Evans were awarded a Points of Light award by the Prime Minister, in recognition of our work in supporting the wellbeing of military veterans and preserving the heritage of the Waterloo Battlefield. In addition, Waterloo Uncovered was nominated for two Charity Times Awards in recognition of our work, in the categories of Charity of the Year and Rising Leader of the Year. 

We also received a huge amount of support from the Waterloo Uncovered community, which has helped us through a difficult year. Over the summer, we took part in the 2.6 Challenge, which was designed to help struggling UK charities raise much needed funds in a period where mass gatherings and fundraising events had to be cancelled. It involved doing 2.6, 26 or 260 of anything at all to raise money; and people responded to the challenge in all sorts of imaginative ways, from tabbing with weighted backpacks, cycling 26 miles for 26 days, making 2.6 kilos of fresh pasta, wearing 26 different hats and marching 26 miles in period military uniform. Overall, we managed to raise over £15,000 with your help!

2021: The Future of Waterloo Uncovered

Nobody is quite sure what 2021 will bring, but we are optimistic and hoping for the best. Read on to find out what we have planned for next year, and how you can get involved and support us!

Back to Belgium?

If circumstances and Covid-19 regulations allow, we hope to return to Belgium in the summer of 2021, to resume our excavations at Hougoumont farm, Mont-Saint-Jean, and Frichermont. We also hope that many of the participants who took part in this year’s virtual programme will be able to join us, and experience Waterloo Uncovered as we originally intended.

Participants digging at Mont-Saint-Jean in 2019.

Our annual excavation is not the only programme we intend to run in 2021. In fact, we plan to run two more programmes alongside our excavation! Funding from the Veterans’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund’s Positive Pathways grants has allowed us to host two brand new programmes to provide veterans and serving military personnel with support and new skills. One programme aims to provide therapeutic and creative workshops including art, writing and poetry for veterans, while the other will focus on training veterans in archaeological finds handling, cleaning and photography. We look forward to sharing more information about these programmes (including how to apply) as they take shape in 2021.

Brand New Content

In 2021, we aim to continue to share our work and archaeological discoveries with you through new reports, conference appearances, videos and content. This will include the release of our 2020 Impact Report, and Volume 2 of our Project Review – if you missed Volume 1, you can read it here.

We also plan to launch a new range of content, including a complete archive of the marches of the regiments that fought at Waterloo, played by reenactor and musician Jack West-Sherring on his fife, alongside a wealth of fascinating educational material. Watch this space as we develop this exciting new content and more!

Waterloo Uncovered Needs You!

In order to provide new content and new programmes, and to continue our work with veterans and serving personnel at Waterloo, we need your help. Waterloo Uncovered is a charity that relies on support and donations from individuals and organisations, without which we couldn’t function. Plans for some exciting fundraising events to help us secure more funds are already in motion for early 2021!

An Evening Uncovered

Join us on the 26th February 2021 for An Evening Uncovered – a virtual event that’s not to be missed. Hosted by Gyles Brandreth, we’ll bring you a night of entertainment, bespoke cocktails, exciting raffle prizes, an auction at Bonhams, and a chance to learn more about our work at Waterloo, all from the comfort of your home! In addition, we’ll be delivering restaurant meals directly to your front door in collaboration with celebrity chef Adam Handling.

You can register for free, or buy your raffle tickets and Adam Handling dinner and cocktails, here.

We’re incredibly grateful for all the support we have received this year that has allowed us to make 2020 a success despite the circumstances. To help us make 2021 even more successful; to allow us to continue to explore and preserve the battlefield of Waterloo; and to help us support even more Veterans and Serving Personnel in finding peace from war, please consider making a donation here.

In the meantime, all of us at Waterloo Uncovered offer you the compliments of the season with a final flourish of fife music!