Through the eyes of a Veteran: EXCAVATION 2023

Steve Gallagher was a Private in the ACC and RLC, specialising as a Chef. He served for six years, seeing active service in Bosnia. Steve attended our 2023 excavation as one of an international group of veteran beneficiaries.

Find out more about Steve's experience on site - including making new friends, exploring the fascinating archaeology of the battlefield, and more!

Want a different perspective? See the dig through the eyes of a student.


Day 0: Sunday 2nd July

The night before the dig. My anxiety was high, and I packed and repacked my kit. I was in tons of pain but I was still getting very excited about what was about to happen. I got a take away with the family and headed to bed early, though not before watching Dan Snow's History Hit video on Waterloo from 2022! I'm worried about leaving the dog for 10 days...

Day 1: MONday 3rd July

I toke up early and made sure everything was read to go. Shaved and showered. The wife and dog dropped me off at the station where I caught my train to the meeting point. The journey was an hour, and I sat with the headphones on. The sun was hot when I got off the train, and I sat on the platform for another hour to relax and enjoy the moment of calm. Before I met up with the Waterloo Uncovered lot, I headed into town and to give my respects to the men who never returned at the local memorial. 
Then it was time to go. I met up with our driver, an archaeology, a wellbeing officer, and another veteran beneficiary, and we ended up on the 'party bus' which was a great laugh. At the service station we met up with the team in the other bus, which included an employee from the project's sponsor, Annington. Her name was Bindu and we got on really well. 
In the evening, we arrived at the hotel and met the whole team. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be - everyone seemed really nice! While the team were drinking - cola for me - I met a veteran who explained his story and issues, which matched mine. Both of us used drink to help with our issues, and discussing it made me tear up a little.
Great day overall - can't wait until morning.

Day 2: TUESDAY 4th July

Awesome breakfast today at the hotel, but I'm anxious and can't wait to get started.
When we arrive at Hougoumont farm, we get a briefing about health and safety. Then I get to do some metal detecting with detectorist Gary, who shows me the ropes. We start digging, and the archaeologists show us how to set up a trench. After a while I get really tired and relax on a bench - it's nice that there's no pressure to get back to work from the team. Then we get started on the chapel trench - I can't wait to see what we find here!
At dinner, I chat with Clive, who is a former Welsh Guardsmen and now reenacts as a Coldstream Guardsmen. He talks me through their kit and drills, and it's really interesting.
This has been another awesome day. I've had no time for bad thoughts to take hold - it's just been non-stop laughing!

Day 3: WEDNESDAY 5th July

Great breakfast again. We kicked off the day with a battlefield tour delivered by Professor Tony Pollard and Clive, the reenactor and veteran I had gotten to know last night. They both had great knowledge and gave a 10 out of 10 tour which gave me a much better understanding of the Battle of Waterloo. In the evening, I told Bindu my story over a few hours while we shared some posh pudding and mint tea. 

Day 4: THURSDAY 6th July

I'm feeling really tired today. We started the day with 10 minutes of mindfulness, which helped, then I went to the finds tent to help Audrey process the finds we were digging up. Me and Bindu had a great laugh, and I got to explain some of the finds to some VIPs who were on a tour. But my legs and back were in pain all day, even though I had an easy day. I went to bed early as I was burnt out and completely knackered.

Day 5: Friday 7th July

Having to take some medication today to get through the day. The meditation helped a little, then we started digging at the chapel again, followed by some metal detecting.

Today I found my first French musket ball and I'm over the moon! I spent most of the rest of the day resting and soaking in the bath. 


Day 6: saturday 8th July

Today was a rest day, so we didn't go on site. It was a sad day as Bindu was leaving, and we've really grown close. She came with us in the minibus on our way to Ypres, and we went on a walk through town and dropped her off in a cafe before she made her own way home. Once we got back to Nivelles, we went on a long walk (the longest I've been on this year!) and I bumped into Mark's (the CEO of Waterloo Uncovered) mum and dad, Diane and Gywn, who volunteer on the dig every year. It was really hot, but we stayed in the town square for a few hours and had a few coffees, while chatting about life, Afghanistan and PTSD - from my perspective, and from the perspective of parents of someone who has been through it like Mark has. They're really lovely people and they've brought a smile to my face every day of the dig. On the way back, I picked up a couple of non-alcoholic beers and enjoyed the walk to the hotel. 

When I got back, I enjoyed a dip in the pool before dinner, then went to bed. I'm a bit burnt out, but it's been a great day! 

Day 7: sUnday 9th July

I couldn't sleep today. I was up at 4am, then woke again at 6am, then finally managed to sleep through until 8:25... five minutes before I needed to be on the bus! I got ready as quickly as possible and grabbed some food to go, making it onto the bus in the nick of time. We headed off to an archaeological conference that was almost entirely in French - which makes me think I need to improve my language skills! We went for a soft drink the the courtyard after the conference which I really enjoyed. When we got back to the hotel, I just relaxed - a long soak, some meditation, dinner and then bed.

Day 8: monday 10th July

I'm feeling sad and low today, but not sure why. In the morning I helped out in finds again, and then joined the team digging in chapel. We're turning up some really excited archaeology, but we're running out of time to finish to job this year! Everyone's working really hard.


Day 9: tuesday 11th July

It's the last day today. We did some meditation, then took a group photo. Then it was back to digging at the chapel before I volunteered to do a bit of modelling for the WU store! Since it was our last day on site, I headed over to the Lion's Mound with Clem, another British veteran. We climbed the whole thing - 226 steps up and 226 steps down, which was a a big struggle for me but also a massive achievement. Then we headed to the museum, which was great, but made me think the French must have won the war after all! To end our last day at Hougoumont, we had all had a drink - I stuck with soft. 

Then it was our last dinner back at the hotel. It made me feel sad to say goodbye - I've made some great friends while I've been here, and the whole team has been great. 

Day 10: wednesday 12th July

Today we headed home.  I really missed my family and dog, and can't wait to see them again. We had a good journey home, and overall, I had a great trip. I'm really looking forward to learning more about history.


A few days later, and I'm still buzzing. I've had a few lows, but I head over to YouTube to watch some videos about Waterloo when it hits. I'm even more interested in the battle now: I think I'm going to look into food, calories and cooking during the battle since I was a chef in the RLC. Really looking forward to seeing the whole WU team again.


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