Captain (retd) Philip Bailey, a beneficiary of the Officers’ Association (OABF) had the once in a life-time opportunity to take part in the Waterloo Uncovered excavation of the battlefield in July 2018.
Philip, a retired Officer was initially referred to the OABF for support with much needed mobility aids, having suffered a life changing illness resulting in the amputation of both his legs above the knees. Philip had always been a very sporty and active person and to this day has not let his disability stop him from continuing his sporting activities of skiing and sailing.
So, when the team from Waterloo Uncovered contacted the OABF seeking potential veterans from the Officer community to join one of their digs, we had no hesitation in putting Philip’s name forward. Here, Philip shares his first-hand account of this unique experience:
A phone call from the Officers’ Association began an unexpected adventure into history – the battle of Waterloo. I was invited to visit an archeological dig on the site in Belgium; an annual event run by an ex-military charity ‘Waterloo Uncovered’, which had been set up by two Coldstream Guards Officers. A unique twist to the trip was our transport over to Belgium, which was provided by the ‘Taxi Charity’ for military veterans, hence the term ‘Waterloo to Waterloo’.
On my trip a dozen veterans met up with six cab drivers at the Gurkha Barracks in Folkstone, so began the bizarre sight of a convoy of six black cabs travelling across the channel and then onto Belgium.
I had of course read the books and seen the films about the Battle of Waterloo but seeing the actual location was a revelation. It is only when you have toured the site that you really begin to understand and visualize the battle which was fought over a relatively small area and a very short time frame.
Artefacts recovered at the dig site at Chateau Hougoumont and the walled Farmhouse at La Haye Sainte were mainly assorted musket balls and weapon fragments. From these meagre finds the experts were able to deduce weapon types, ranges and intensity of combat. The fighting at the farm was an all-day affair drawing in large numbers of the French, but relatively few allied troops of which the Coldstream Guards played a vital part with Cpl James Graham and Lt Col James Macdonnell, who managed to shut the north gate after a French attack, stopping further French troops from storming through. The Duke of Wellington himself declared after the battle that “the success of the battle turned upon closing the gates at Hougoumont”.
A team of re-enactors lent colour and sound to the day and the trip was rounded off with a visit to Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery (World War 1) and the chance to attend the daily ceremony in Ypres at the Menin Gate. A very moving event as the bugle calls echoed around us.
I am extremely grateful to have had this fascinating and enjoyable opportunity, thank you to the Waterloo Uncovered Team, the London taxi drivers and the Officers’ Association – Philip Bailey.
The Officers’ Association (OABF), founded in 1920, is charity that exists to provide former military Officers and their families with the support that they need to thrive outside of the Armed Forces. As well as providing advice and financial support, the OABF works with other military charities and charitable organizations, including Waterloo Uncovered, referring people who could benefit from the specialist support that they offer.