Phil Harding

Summer excavations 2015, 2016, 2017

Phil Harding, a name that is familiar to many people through his involvement with the Channel 4 archaeology programme Time Team. Phil became involved with Waterloo Uncovered when details were circulated to members of the Defence Archaeology Group, of which he is President, and which helps use archaeology to provide military personnel with help for those who need it. “I felt it was time to contribute something practical in addition to my presidential role.”

“The first year I attended Waterloo Uncovered I got on well with everyone, liked what I saw and was pleased to be invited back for a second year. I must have been doing something right!

At Waterloo Uncovered I act as a trench supervisor. This requires me to look after the archaeology, as I would in my normal life as a professional field archaeologist, but also to act as a tutor. I remain a firm believer that your first dig is the most important dig you will ever undertake and that the tuition provided will shape the way in which you excavate from that point onwards. It is essential that each step is explained carefully, not only the ‘how to’ but also the ‘why’; if this is undertaken correctly it reflects on the quality of the excavation, the accuracy of the results and the pride of the work force. It is clearly understood that it is ‘our trench’ and we all share pride in its appearance and the way in which it is done. I firmly believe that these concepts are those that are also found in military groups. Explaining what we have found, why it’s important and what we intend to achieve subsequently is also a vital tool of motivation. As in all archaeology doing it with a smile on your face is essential.

Digging at Waterloo Uncovered is a unique experience. As an archaeologist, the opportunity to excavate and produce archaeological results at one of the most important events of the 19th century is a privilege. To do this with military personnel, who have infinitely more combat experience than I shall ever acquire, and to provide them with some respite, recovery and change adds to that satisfaction. In many ways I remain an outsider, a lifetime archaeologist among a group of professional military personnel, people who share experience, humour and camaraderie. It is truly humbling to think that something that has been so important to me, archaeology, can also provide some help to those who need it.

Digging with veterans at Waterloo Uncovered posed no real doubts for me; I’d witnessed the use of troops at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery site in Wiltshire, knew that it would work and approached Waterloo with confidence.

There is still much that I do not understand about the way of military life, PTSD or related forms of injury, but I’m also learning and that is the important thing. Perhaps retaining some form of ignorance is beneficial; it helps to concentrate my mind and effort on the archaeological results of the project but also hoping that I can make the experience memorable for all our participants.”

Phil in 2017