November Dig Diary

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

By Hattie Ford

In this special fundraising edition:

  • We remember the fallen of Waterloo;
  • A brave skydiving challenge;
  • A World Record breaking relay on the Rock of Gibraltar;
  • A special request from Phil Harding!

Remembrance at Waterloo

As we approach Remembrance Day, we remember not just those who gave their lives in the first and second World Wars, but in all wars. Remembering and acknowledging the impact of war on people through the ages is an important part of the work of Waterloo Uncovered. Our excavations on the battlefield connect present day veterans and serving personnel to their 19th century counterparts, as we uncover their stories and evidence of their lives – an experience which can be poignant and emotional for those taking part. While the nature of war has drastically changed over the last 200 years, many elements of a soldier’s experience are universal, and are shared between our veteran participants and those whose lives they are exploring.

Chelsea pensioner Trevor with Napoleonic reenactors.

Each year, participants of Waterloo Uncovered’s excavation take part in a marathon act of remembrance, Reading to Remember, held in a place indelibly linked with the experience of the battle -the chapel of Hougoumont farm, used to shelter the wounded during the fighting.

 Over the course of 11 hours – the duration of the Battle of Waterloo itself – the entire team of Waterloo Uncovered takes part in a relay of readings. These are drawn from first-hand accounts of the battle and its aftermath by people who were there and survived; from letters from family members anxious of the fate of their loved ones; from diaries, histories and memoirs.  It’s a very powerful and poignant event, made more so by the fact that many of the readers are men and women who have themselves served.  Here, some of our previous participants offer their reflections on their own experiences and on the accounts left by the people who fought and suffered in the battle 200 years ago, in Reading to Remember.

Fundraising News

Waterloo Uncovered is a charity. We depend on contributions from a range of individuals and organisations in order to carry on with our work of:

  • Exploring and preserving the heritage of the Battle of Waterloo
  • Helping some of today’s Veterans and Serving Personnel recover from injury and move on with their lives.

Here’s a snapshot of what some of our supporters have been up to recently – and a message from our team mate Phil Harding about how you can help!

Skydiving for Charity

In October, Emma Gray and her colleague and friend Rachel completed a brave challenge to raise money for Waterloo Uncovered and the Samaritans – a terrifying tandem skydive from 13,000ft!

Emma took on the challenge in memory of her son, Tom Gray, who tragically passed away last year. Tom was a member of the Cambridge UOTC (University Officers Training Corps), an Army Reserve unit that recruits exclusively from university students across East Anglia. Through his work with the UOTC, he learnt about Waterloo Uncovered, and in July 2019, he volunteered to join us on our dig in Belgium. He travelled to Belgium as part of the Black Cabs’ trip – a convoy of iconic London black cabs driven from Waterloo Station in London to Waterloo in Belgium by volunteer drivers, organised by the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. Tom, who had a keen interest in military history, impressed veterans and archaeologists alike with his broad knowledge of Waterloo and enthusiasm for the project during his time with us. His family recalls that he greatly enjoyed the experience of last summer, and “loved it at Waterloo”, so much so that Tom’s grandfather Phil took part in Waterloo Uncovered’s virtual programme (which replaced our excavation in Belgium after it was cancelled due to COVID) this year, as a tribute to Tom.

Tom Gray

Skydiving was something Tom has been interested in trying, inspired by a friend who was doing RAF Officer Cadet training, and so was chosen as a way to honour Tom and raise money for charity in his memory.

The jump was originally scheduled for April 2020, but had to be postponed due to Coronavirus restrictions. When it was all set to take place again, Emma unfortunately slipped a disc and the jump had to be delayed for a further 3 months while she recovered. And when the jump was finally rescheduled – Storm Alex hit the east coast and meant the jumped was called off once again! After months of delays, Emma was finally able to complete her skydive on the 16th of October, while wearing Tom’s Waterloo Uncovered polo shirt. She was originally supposed to be joined by Tom’s girlfriend Chelsea, but unfortunately, due to the delays, Chelsea was unable to take part in the jump. Instead, Emma’s colleague and friend Rachel stepped in and carried out the jump with Emma at Beccles Heliport in Suffolk.

Rachel and Emma after having completed their jump

“The guys at Beccles were just so lovely – I think I got the calmest person on the planet to jump with,” Emma said, “I’d definitely do it again – it was such an experience. The weather was good – we flew above the cloud into blue sky. The noise was intense. When we jumped we fell through the clouds for 3-4 seconds…..the only thing to spoil the view is your feet!”

When she’s not jumping out of planes, Emma can also be found exploring Norfolk on her motorcycle. Motorbikes are an interest she shared with Tom, and he even helped her pick out her current bike, a 300cc Yamaha.  Emma has only recently started riding again, for the first time since Tom passed away last year, and has joined an all-female motorbike club called the Curvy Riders, who have been a great support to Emma during a difficult period.

“It’s a bad time to get back into biking [due to Covid-19],” Emma says, “But Curvy Riders are really good – an all-female biker group where we get to ride out and stop for tea and cakes.”

Emma and Rachel’s jump raised money for Waterloo Uncovered, and for the Samaritans, a charity which provides emotional support to those in vulnerable situations or considering suicide. If you’re as impressed by Emma and Rachel’s jump as we are, you can still donate via Emma’s JustGiving page using the button below, to support them and their chosen charities.

I hope it would have made Tom proud

Emma Gray

A World Record Breaking Relay

Last week, three members of our team – Luke Jules and Ben Mead, and fundraising officer Kate Scott – visited Gibraltar to lay the groundwork for an exciting event. Circumstances permitting, Waterloo Uncovered will return to Gibraltar in May 2021, for an extreme version of Gibraltar’s ‘Rock Run’ – including a world record attempt!

The famous Rock Run of Gibraltar is a rite of passage for the personnel of every Royal Navy ship that visits Gibraltar, as well as many Army and RAF units that are deployed there. The Rock Run typically consists of a 2.75 mile run from the bottom of the Rock of Gibraltar to the summit. Waterloo Uncovered team member Ben Mead completed the Rock Run several years ago when he was stationed in Gibraltar – and the experience has inspired him to take the challenge one step further.

Veterans Luke Jules and Ben Mead in front of the Rock of Gibraltar

Our Rock Relay Run challenge will aim to set the world record for the most circuits of the Rock of Gibraltar by a relay team of 6 people, over the course of 12 hours. 3 members of the team will start at the top of the Rock, by the O’Hara Battery, while another 3 runners will begin at the bottom of the Rock by the Wellington Monument in the Botanical Gardens. Over the next 12 hours, one participant will run down while another simultaneously runs up, switching with another team member when they reach their destination and giving themselves time for water and rest. The distance from the O’Hara Battery (the highest accessible point of the Rock) to the Wellington Monument is around 3.2km

The team will consist of veterans and serving military personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force, and a member of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. In addition to organising the event, Ben and Luke will be two of the Veterans and Serving Military Personnel (VSMP) taking on this exciting challenge.

Ben Mead

Ben joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 1998 as a Regimental Specialist (RS), before transferring to the Royal Signals in 2005. During his military career Ben, was deployed on a joint tour of Bosnia/Kosovo, and later to Afghanistan, and was also part of one of the first British military units to serve in Iraq in 2003. Sadly Ben was injured on his last tour in Afghanistan in 2012. This resulted in him suffering physical injuries to his back, left shoulder and neck, as well as suffering the mental injuries of war which resulted in a diagnosis of Complex PTSD. 

Ben has not let these injuries hold them back, and has remained active and busy throughout the recovery process. He has been a valued VSMP member of the Waterloo Uncovered team since 2018, starting as a participant and working his way up to become part of our staff.. He is also a part of the Armed Forces PARA Snowsport Team (AFPST), with whom he has completed the Arctic Marathon in Lapland, Finland in 2019, and recently tabbed (fast paced marching with a weighted rucksack) 724.2km (the distance from Waterloo Station in London to Waterloo in Belgium and back again) to raise money for Waterloo Uncovered.

The Rock Relay run will not be Ben’s first world record attempt. Ben already holds a Guinness World Record for being part of the team that pulled the heaviest aircraft (a British Airways Boeing 787 DreamLiner, weighing 127.6 tons!) over 100 m in wheelchairs, a challenge which took place at Heathrow Airport in November 2018. 

Luke Jules

Flight Lieutenant Luke Jules joined the RAF in 2003 and, after training, flew the Hercules C130J until 2018. In that time, he saw the world from Antarctica and the Falklands to the Far East, and was deployed regularly to Operations across the Middle East and Africa. He eventually flew on the first wave of Op SHADER as part of the coalition against the Islamic State.

Luke now works in HQ Air at RAF High Wycombe alongside his wife Catherine. He has been volunteering with Waterloo Uncovered since 2018, and represents the RAF on the WU staff – just as he will represent the RAF alongside Navy and Army personnel during the Rock Relay Run.

While visiting Gibraltar to begin organising the world record attempt, Kate, Ben and Luke secured the support of the Gibraltar Tourist Board, the Gibraltar Sports and Leisure Authority and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.  The team also met with the Governor of Gibraltar, Vice Admiral Sir David George Steel who lent his support to the fundraiser, and were interviewed by the Gibraltar Chronicle and the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation about our plans and the charity’s work.

Ben Mead being interviewed by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation

Waterloo Uncovered Needs You!

Phil Harding, known for his work on the long running TV series Time Team, and one of Waterloo Uncovered’s Archaeological Supervisors, recaps the highlights from our Lockdown Lecture series and makes a very special request in this appeal. Can you help us continue our work?

Waterloo Uncovered’s mission is threefold: we aim to explore and preserve the archaeology of the world famous battlefield of Waterloo; to share our results with the public through education and public engagement; and to support veterans and serving personnel through their recovery from the traumas of war. The Waterloo Uncovered project brings veterans to Belgium to take part in our archaeological excavations, where they learn new skills while receiving support from our dedicated Welfare Team of medical professionals – most of whom are veterans themselves. Over the last 5 years, we’ve supported over 100 veterans and serving military personnel, including many who have suffered mental or physical injuries during their service, to transition into civilian life and begin the process of recovery.

But we can’t do this without your help. We are a small charity that relies on donations from organisations and individuals, whose generosity we are extremely grateful for. With your support, we hope to continue our work into the future and help as many veterans as possible find peace from war. Will you help us achieve our goal?