Veteran Jo Clark, the Sutton Hoo helmet, and Napoleon Bonaparte

June Dig Diary

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

By Hattie Ford

In the June edition of our Dig Diary:
• Our Virtual Programme participants get an exclusive look at the British Museum;
• We look at how close Napoleon came to winning at Waterloo on the 200th anniversary of his death;
• We mark Mental Health Awareness Week with Jo’s story.

The Death of Napoleon: 200 Years On

The 5th of May saw the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, who died of stomach cancer in exile on Saint Helena after his defeat at the hands of the Allies at the Battle of Waterloo.

Napoleon’s life and legacy have long been controversial, and the 200th anniversary of his death was no exception, with the contentious installation of a horse skeleton sculpture over Napoleon’s tomb making headlines. To commemorate the bicentenary of his death, Waterloo Uncovered stuck to safer ground, and turned to our own discoveries to ask: just how close did Napoleon come to winning at Waterloo?

The Duke of Wellington once described Waterloo as “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” Evidence uncovered by Waterloo Uncovered at Hougoumont and Mont-Saint-Jean has revealed just how true that statement is – find out more below:

Virtual Programme: Museum Week

Our 2021 Virtual Veterans Programme, designed to replace our annual excavation in Belgium, is well under way, and last week we were joined by staff from the British Museum for a special week of activities and lectures: Museum Week!

Our veteran participants were first joined by Reagan and Laura for a behind the scenes look at some of the incredible objects that the British Museum takes care of. After learning about the history of the museum’s collections, they were asked to consider what words come to mind when they think of the British Museum, and shared some of their own fond memories of childhood trips to the museum.

They were then shown a variety of incredible objects associated with war and combat from the British Museum’s extensive collection, with particular focus on the artefacts found in the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, as featured in the hit Netflix film The Dig. After looking more deeply into the burial and the objects left behind, our participants were able to share the unique and moving stories of some of the objects that they carried with them during their service, that reminded them of home, family, or had a vital practical use.

Later in the week, our veteran participants were joined by Sam and Andrew from the British Museum for a discussion of the legacy and reputation of the Roman Emperor Nero – and they even got a sneak preview of the British Museum’s upcoming Nero exhibition! By going on a journey through Nero’s life and looking at a variety of different sources and perspectives, the group began to question how we separate historical fact from fiction and myth, and how archaeology is able to contribute to finding the truth behind controversial historical figures.

Waterloo Uncovered would like to say a huge thank you to the British Museum for their time, support, and collaboration. We hope to be able to visit the museum in person, and even take a group of veterans as part of a future Veteran Support Programme, as soon as possible!

Mental Health Awareness Week

The beginning of May saw the commemoration of Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to Mental Health and encourage people to speak freely about something that affects us all. In these strange times, you may be feeling more isolated, stressed or worried than ever, and it is important to remember that this is understandable, and that it’s okay to not feel okay. It’s more important than ever to keep track of how you’re feeling, prioritise your wellbeing, reach out to those around you, and seek help when needed.

Many of the veteran’s and serving personnel associated with Waterloo Uncovered have struggled with mental health issues, usually stemming from trauma and injury during their service. Supporting these veterans and serving personnel and aiding in their recovery is an important part of Waterloo Uncovered’s mission statement, and has been a central goal of the project from the very beginning. Our Veteran & Serving Military Personnel (VSMP) Programme, which is run by an experienced Wellbeing and Support team and offers VSMP year round support, has seen incredibly positive results over the last five years, and we continue to improve and adapt the programme as Waterloo Uncovered grows.

One of our veterans, Jo, spoke to us last year about her own battle with transitioning to civilian life after service. Jo participated in our 2018 excavation, and also joined us for our 2020 programme, which took place virtually due to Coronavirus. Listen to her story below:

To help us support even more Veterans and Serving Military Personnel, please consider making a donation today.

What Else Have We Been Up To?

L-P Archaeology’s Finds Specialist Audrey took over 500 of Waterloo Uncovered’s finds to be X-rayed by Drakon Heritage, a conservation specialist based in the West Midlands. We’ll bring you their findings soon!

We raised a toast on the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death in exile with our new pub finder tool – find your closest Wellington, Waterloo or Napoleon-named pub here!

We celebrated six years since Waterloo Uncovered’s first ever trip to Belgium in April 2015! Here’s to many more years of excavation and veteran support to come.