Bid to solve unanswered questions about Belgian battlefield calls on public for support
British veterans will help archaeologists pursue undiscovered mass graves and a more accurate lay of the land on the Belgian fields where the Battle of Waterloo waged, creating modern Europe and ending the Napoleonic era 200 years ago.
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Two officers from the modern-day Coldstream Guards, Major Charles Foinette and Mark Evans, came up with the idea, partly in honour of the role their regiment played on June 18 1815. Major Foinette is currently serving with the Guards' 1st Battalion, while Evans is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his recent service in Afghanistan.
“I have experienced first-hand the benefits of archaeology and what it can do for the recovery process,” says Evans, who is one of the co-ordinators of the Waterloo Uncovered project as part of the Operation Nightingale initiative which links recovering military personnel with important archaeological quests.
Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, will call on techniques pioneered by conflict archaeologists for large-scale surveys when he leads the work.
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"History tells us who won the battle but understanding what happened has until now relied on first-hand accounts and reports that in some cases are either confusing or biased,” he feels.
“We hope archaeology can provide answers to many of the questions about Waterloo that remain unanswered - these include the location of graves, which from accounts appear to have been scattered across a wide area, but also details of the at times confused fighting at locations such as Hougoumont and, on a broader scale, the effectiveness of the strongpoints of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte in blunting the force of the French attack on the Allied centre and right.
“As an archaeologist this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore such a famous battle, not least because the battlefield remains remarkably undisturbed 200 years later.”
The team will liaise closely with their Belgian colleagues from Project Hougoumont, which has funded and overseen the restoration of the surviving farm buildings at Hougoumont and the creation of a new visitor centre focused on the area.
“What I think makes Waterloo Uncovered truly special is that for the first time we have a regiment, in the form of the Coldstream Guards, supporting an initiative to explore its own history through the medium of archaeology,” says Dominique Bosquet, the Excavation Director for Service de l'archéologie-Direction extérieure du Brabant Wallon, the group which regulates archaeology on the battlefield.
“The Coldstream Guards and veterans who will participate provide a living link to the battle.”
The Waterloo 200 campaign is also backing the project.
- Donations are being invited for the not-for-profit Waterloo Uncovered. Cheques, made payable to 'Waterloo Uncovered', can be sent to Project Director, Waterloo Uncovered, c/o Regimental Headquarters Coldstream Guards, Wellington Barracks, London SW1E 6HQ.
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More from Culture24's coverage of Waterloo 200:
Waterloo 200 website launches with 100 objects and search for Waterloo ancestors
Waterloo 200: Six key artefacts from the Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon's letter of surrender from Waterloo to go on public view at Windsor Castle