This summer archaeology HPL Andrew Hoaen, used his educational and professional training by volunteering for Operation Nightingale http://www.daguk.org/ which works with disabled and able bodied veterans and serving members of the armed forces. Archaeological work helps soldiers with their rehabilitation from a wide range of problems.
When Fred retired from the Army, nearly twenty years ago, he found that he needed help. His words best sum up one of the problems he faced. “Once you leave service, and you develop PTSD the biggest problem you have is that you tend to lock yourself away – you hide so getting out with these people and actually doing a bit of recreational therapy is – if you like – the best thing you can do.” I met Fred whilst volunteering for Operational Nightingale; run by the Defence Archaeology Group, their aim is to help in the recovery and retraining of returning and injured service personnel, by providing occupational therapy through participation in archaeological projects.
We were digging at Marne Barracks, just outside of Catterick in North Yorkshire. Sgt. Dairmaid Walshe, the organizer for the project, was helping direct the excavations along with Dr. Steve Sherlock. There was a great team on the dig with a mix of students, volunteers, current and ex-service men and women. Two of the sites I worked on stood out above the rest: one was a Roman House, which had been used later as an Anglo-Saxon cemetery; the other in the fields nearby a Bronze Age Barrow. Around 15 people were working at any one time on the house site and I have found in my years of archaeology that there is always one person on any site who has the knack for finding things. In our case this was an ex-soldier from Liverpool called Gary. By the end of the dig he had found two burials, a bone comb and several coins. At the Barrow site watching Clare a volunteer help Karl a blind ex-RAF policeman to dig and record the barrow ditch was not only great fun it was also very inspiring.
Getting the opportunity to teach men like Steve and Paul who were both ex-soldiers how to properly excavate, draw and record archaeological features was a privilege. They find the work interesting, it gives them a focus away from any other problems they might be facing and reinforces any therapy that they are currently having. It also helps that many of the skills required for archaeology they already possess, it is just a case of applying them in a different context. Working at the Marne Barracks gave them confidence in their recovery and new skills to apply in their work or search for work.
In my time on the project I learned a whole new perspective on community archaeology and the challenges facing veterans when they return home. The Defence Archaeology Group represents the best of community archaeology; a self sustaining group that is committed to providing injured servicemen and women opportunities and a safe place to help with their recovery, whilst learning more about the craft of archaeology.
The key partners for Marne are: Operation Nightingale, who, in the person of Sgt. Dairmaid Walshe, organized the project; the Ministry of Defence, who made personnel available and helped with the logistics; and the joint venture of Carillion – Morgan Sindall JV, who are widening the A1 and provided the dig director Dr. Steve Sherlock.
For more information see http://www.daguk.org/