On the battlefields of Waterloo, more than two centuries ago, thousands of soldiers lost their lives.
In 2023, twenty-eight veterans who have survived their own battles will journey to those same fields seeking to restart living their own lives.
The story our documentary will tell is one of healing and hope.
Made with never-before-granted 100% access from the Waterloo Uncovered charity organisation, we will follow an international group of present and former servicepeople through their physical and emotional journey on an archaeological dig in Waterloo, Belgium. Stories will be shared, tears will be shed, bonds will be formed, and terrors of the past confronted as these veterans make progress in their ongoing battle with PTSD, a condition which is now acknowledged and treated more than ever before in history.
Back in 1815, when PTSD was swept aside under the term ‘battle stress’, former Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte returned from exile and attempted to reconquer Europe, sweeping through France and gathering formidable support. He was met by Allied Forces, led by the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo as 180,000 soldiers fought for the fate of Europe.
In the present day, as Waterloo Uncovered’s participants delve for artefacts beneath the ground, they dig deeper into their own psyche. Unearthing items ranging from bullets to bones from two hundred years ago, some from the very same regiments in which they themselves served, these battle-scarred veterans are reminded they survived where others did not, yet they share the suffering of survival with people throughout history.
A large part of the archaeology is metal detecting, a process that shares striking similarities with that of mine hunting – and many of the participants in these digs have lost limbs to explosions on the field of war. The reactions of participants vary wildly, from finding it overwhelming to cathartic.
Indeed, this is not a dry, clinical process in corporate rooms. It’s something that happens organically as participants get their hands dirty, tackling difficult tasks as a team, building camaraderie and remembering the many positives of their years in service to balance out the negatives many have felt overwhelm their own narrative.
During the documentary, we will show the story of the 2023 Waterloo Uncovered intake, from the selection process to the individuals being informed, on to the battlefield in Belgium and beyond – through a combination of one-on-one interviews and group observation in the field, along with commentary and insight from psychologists and historians, we’ll come to know these people, their stories, and how being part of this process gives them a handrail on life.
Most people associate PTSD with first-hand combat experience but it can result from so much more. Here are the types of experiences and stories our veterans will have;
Those who served in Bosnia suffer less from combat stress and more from enduring guilt about not being able to save the innocent people they were supposed to be protecting.
Drone pilots are just as susceptible to PTSD as any, yet because they operate more individually and in what is generally considered a less dangerous environment, they can be easily forgotten.
Another group of people who often feel forgotten are those who saw service in Ireland. And if they don’t feel overlooked, they feel looked down upon, vilified and blamed for the troubles when they were only following orders.
Many women within the forces have had to deal with appalling levels of bullying even to the level of sexual harassment and rape, causing as much if not more mental anguish than could be found on the front-lines.
The ‘gripes go up’ attitude present in officers can put them at high risk of suffering from ongoing PTSD and failing to identify or act on it. Those who have made split second decisions that have led to life changing – and life ending – consequences for others carry an enormous burden yet find it almost impossible to admit.
While each individual suffers through their own private internal struggle, there’s one common challenge most experience – that of what happens after the uniform is put away for good. Like institutionalised prisoners struggling to return to society after serving their sentence, those who serve their country often find resuming civilian life an overwhelming and distressing experience.
© Fluidity Films 2022