Veterans' Stories: Maria
Maria Pikulski had a short career in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, followed by 11 years in the Territorial Army, before being discharged in 2003. She now works for the Royal National Institute of Blind People as an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer at her local hospital. Maria deals with vision loss in her personal life in addition to her work, as she suffers from an almost complete loss of sight due to a genetic eye disease. When she first learnt about Waterloo Uncovered through the charity Blind Veterans UK, Maria saw it as the perfect opportunity to finally give archaeology a try, something she had always been interested in but had never been able to participate in.
Unfortunately, due to coronavirus, Waterloo Uncovered’s 2020 excavations in Belgium had to be cancelled, and a Virtual Programme was delivered in their place. For Maria, this provided a welcome distraction during lockdown. Like many, she struggled with maintaining a clear work-life balance when she began working from home due to Coronavirus, and the virtual programme helped her break her day up and gave her something new to look forward to each day.
Maria's focus for the virtual programme was to improve her confidence levels and self belief by taking part in group activities. By engaging with other veterans, the programme’s content and Waterloo Uncovered’s welfare team, Maria hoped to improve her overall wellbeing over the summer. She also wanted to increase her knowledge of the history and archaeology of the Battle of Waterloo through the programme’s lectures and seminars. Overall, Maria felt that she achieved the goals that she set out at the start of the programme, having “learnt loads”, and considered the virtual programme to be valuable, educational and enjoyable. She was also able to form relationships with other veteran participants, particular those who also suffer from sight loss, despite the virtual nature of the programme.
The unfortunate but necessary switch from our physical excavation in Belgium to our virtual programme made Maria's goal of getting hands on archaeological experience much more difficult to achieve. But she still managed to take part in a small-scale excavation despite lockdown. Maria and her husband Richard participated in the programme’s Test Pitting activity, where they dug a 1m by 1m test pit in their back garden under the direction of the programme's archaeologists, discovering pottery, flint and even a clay pipe. Test Pitting gave Maria a taste for excavation, and she hopes to continue archaeology as a hobby in the future. Maria would also like to build on many of the relationships she has developed this year with other veterans, to maintain the comradeship she has found over the summer.