Award-winning soldiers’ recovery project continues to break new ground

Posted by pt91 at Jul 12, 2012 04:05 PM |
University of Leicester archaeologists work with injured soldiers on excavations
Award-winning soldiers’ recovery project continues to break new ground

A soldier examines an excavated skeleton. Image by Corporal Kellie Williams, RLC.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 12 July 2012

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An award-winning project using archaeology to aid the recovery of soldiers from The Rifles injured on Operation Herrick continues its success on Salisbury Plain.

‘Operation Nightingale’ has this week received a special award from the British Archaeological Awards in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of military personnel injured in Afghanistan.

This unique, and hugely successful, programme continues with investigations into the Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon deposits at Barrow Clump. Soldiers are excavating material, including Saxon grave goods, moved by badgers who have constructed their setts on the prehistoric monument.

The soldiers have helped uncover the remains of a sixth century Anglo-Saxon female. 'Davina', as they have named the woman is believed to have died in her late teens to early 20s. She appears to have been a person of note, as she was buried in what would have been a prestigious burial site. They have also found the remains of an Anglo-Saxon male, who was buried with a bronze shield.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) worked with The Rifles to create this opportunity for the soldiers to learn a series of excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques and also enhancing their publication and presentation skills. Eight soldiers are moving on to study archaeology at University of Leicester, thanks to the programme.

Co-directed by Richard Osgood, of DIO, and Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, of 1 Rifles, the project draws in assistance from partners including English Heritage, Wessex Archaeology and the Army’s survey unit,135 Geographical Squadron, to help deliver the programme.

Richard Osgood, DIO’s Senior Historic Advisor, said:

“DIO’s priority is to support our Armed Forces. There are long-standing connections between the profession of archaeology and the military. This work continues to draw on a number of important skill-sets to give the soldiers an enduring interest in heritage and their environment.

“We are delighted to receive recognition from the BAA for the project, which underlines its significance, as soldiers who took part in the first dig last September prepare for life after the Services - looking forward to studying archaeology at university.

“It’s great to see so many heritage organisations and individuals volunteering their time to play their part in fulfilling the military covenant. The project has proved of immense value thus far in assisting soldiers in The Rifles whilst at the same time accomplishing some great archaeology”

The soldiers themselves with the support of the archaeological professionals involved will not only carry out the excavation but will then produce a published report to record their findings at the site.

Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, who is also a qualified archaeologist, said:

“These soldiers have all endured a lot during operational tours.  Due to complex nature of the injuries that are being experienced in Afghanistan  the Army is looking at new and innovative ways to promote recovery. The BAA award means as much to the soldiers participating in the project, as it does to those of us leading the work.

“We have already seen that archaeology enhances their rehabilitation process. It also gives soldiers a very different view of Salisbury Plain along with the heritage associated with it. We are investing time and resources in these soldiers in the firm belief that fieldwork and recording will aid their recovery.”

The work is crucial to recover important artefacts and human remains before the site is destroyed by burrowing animals, and to assist in the process of addressing Heritage at Risk on the MOD Estate.

Members of the project team collected the award – created especially to recognise Operation Nightingale’s strengths – at the prestigious British Archaeological Awards ceremony at the British Museum, in London, on Monday.

Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, chairman of the BAA, said:

”The trustees of the British Archaeological Awards were unanimous that Operation Nightingale was a project worthy of special recognition, not just because of the important archaeological work undertaken, but due to its positive impact on the well-being of courageous soldiers from The Rifles who have been able to take part. We are delighted that archaeology can play such an important part in their rehabilitation.”

Soldiers who took part in the initial phase of Operation Nightingale on SPTA last September are now set to use the experience to further their interest in archaeology. Cpl Steve Winterton, of 1 Rifles, begins an archaeology degree at the University of Leicester later this year. He commented:

"I have worked on all of the Operation Nightingale excavations since the beginning of the project last year and have really enjoyed it. I have excavated on Prehistoric, Roman, 20th Century and now Anglo-Saxon sites all of which have offered really different experiences.

“I am building up my skills through the work on these projects and am now able to put together project designs for major excavations - I have also gained a lot of fieldwork experience and have found two of the burials at Barrow Clump myself. Another benefit of the project for me is that I have enrolled to do a degree in Archaeology at University of Leicester. Operation Nightingale has really helped me.”

Staff at the University of Leicester have now forged close links and good working relationships with both project leaders and soldiers on the programme.

Deirdre O’Sullivan, Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester said:

“Since we heard about this great project last November we have been keen to be involved at all levels, from working with injured soldiers on Operation Nightingale excavations, to helping those among them who develop a taste for archaeology to take further steps in their future career development through our degree-level courses.  We are delighted to welcome the soldiers of Operation Nightingale into our student cohort, as the University of Leicester takes great pride in the accessibility of our teaching and support of students from non-conventional academic backgrounds.

“The soldiers’ archaeological education is opening up new pathways for them and fresh opportunities for us: through working with Operation Nightingale, our own students are having a terrific chance to stretch their horizons and gain valuable life experience. And from an academic perspective, we are also thrilled to be closely engaged with such interesting archaeology!”


Notes to Editors

1.     Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) is part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It is responsible   for managing and maintaining land and properties to meet the current and future needs of the MOD and personnel at home and abroad, and to support current operations.

2.     Our work includes providing, supporting and improving: operational units; single living and service family accommodation; training areas and historic military sites.  DIO actively manages these to ensure the needs of Defence are met, value for money is achieved, our heritage is protected and to achieve our environmental goals.

3.     DIO was formed on 1 April 2011 when the former Defence Estates (DE) organisation was brought together with other property and infrastructure functions within department to form a single organisation. DIO manages the MOD’s property infrastructure and ensures strategic management of the Defence estate as a whole.

4.     The Rifles is the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, consisting of five regular and two territorial battalions. More information can be found here:

Further information:

Press enquiries to Sonia Southern, Communications Officer 0121 311 2418

or email

Defence Infrastructure Organisation

Media and Communications

Kingston Road, Sutton Coldfield,

West Midlands B75 7RL

Tel: 0121 311 3879

Fax: 0121 311 3809

DIO website:

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