Soldiers take part in Operation Nightingale at Folkestone (Photos)

Contributed by editor on Nov 08, 2011 - 06:10 AM

By Nick Spurrier
A group of injured soldiers are learning the skills of archaeology at Folkestone Roman villa as part of Operation Nightingale, an initative which helps with their physical rehabilitation.

Eight soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles took part in the excavation of the Iron Age settlement and Roman villa at East Wear Bay, Folkestone, for five days from Monday 24th October.


All the men had been injured on active service in Afghanistan.


They helped in the excavation as part of Operation Nightingale which is being developed by the army to use archaeology as therapy for recovering soldiers.

It is hoped the project will help make it easier returning to the regiment for successful participants or provide a focus or hobby for those that may leave.

The excavation at East Wear Bay is taking place as part of a three year community archaeology project, ‘A Town Unearthed: Folkestone Before 1500’.


Soldiers at the archaeological dig

The dig, which is being directed by Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, has uncovered new evidence about the Roman occupation of the site, but also significant evidence of a large Iron Age settlement that existed there before the Roman period, and which seems to have been a major focus of power and trade in the 1st centuries BC and AD.

Corporal Steven Winterton of 1 Rifles has already spent four days at the site, as part of the development of Operation Nightingale. His finds include a small Roman intaglio gem, probably a setting from a finger-ring. He said: "I've really enjoyed the experience so far. It's been brilliant. I've always had an interest in archaeology and this week has rekindled that. The project has been a great help in lifting the day-to-day burdens following my injury. It gives all of us participating in the project the chance to acquire new skills to help develop our future careers."

Rifleman Jake Watts who was at the Folkestone Roman Villa dig last week said: “I didn’t know what to expect when we were told we would be doing archaeology but I went into it with an open mind and I have enjoyed it, especially the precise work”


Roman intaglio gem found by Corporal Steven Winterton

Rifleman Watts and the others have previously been digging in the spill from badger sets on Salisbury Plain where they found Iron Age material.


Rifleman Ashley Meredith admitted that when he arrived he thought it would be quite boring: " But when we were told what we were looking for and about the things that we had found – pottery bones, flint tools - I started to become interested", he said.

Operation Nightingale is the brainchild of Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe of 1 Rifles, who is also a qualified archaeologist.


"These soldiers have all endured a lot during operational tours. Due to the complex nature of their physical and mental injuries sustained in Afghanistan, the Army is looking at new and innovative ways to promote recovery. It is my belief that archaeology is the perfect way to achieve this, whilst enhancing their rehabilitation process. We are investing time and resources to aid these soldiers, with a firm belief that fieldwork and recording will aid their recovery", Sergeant Walshe said.

More than 500 soldiers from the Battalion have been deployed to Afghanistan where they have had considerable success in ensuring that local people can live and work in a safe environment.

Recent discoveries include the remains of a pre-Roman road or path constructed of small stones that possibly led down to the beach. The dig continues for seven days a week and the site can be visited in any day between 10.0 am. and 4.00 pm.

For further information on A Town Unearthed contact Hannah Lewis on 01303-850614 or visit the website:  for the latest information.


The project ‘A Town Unearthed: Folkestone Before 1500’ is a partnership between Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Canterbury Christ Church University and the Folkestone People’s History Centre and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust, with additional contributions by Folkestone Town Council, Kent Archaeological Society, Kent County Council, Shepway District Council, East Folkestone Change Together and the Tory Family Foundation.

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