There is a groundbreaking new program called the Op Nightingale Archaeological Project that's giving veterans a chance to get involved in meaningful work as they strive to overcome physical injuries and psychological trauma sustained during the war. Recently, a group of these amateur army archeologists uncovered the remains of a lost Liberator Bomber in the UK, highlighting the value of the project as not just a rehabilitative effort, but a genuine scientific one as well.
Working alongside their colleagues from the Royal Air Force, the Op Nightingale team discovered the wreckage of an AL595 B-24 Liberator that crashed into a field on the outskirts of Lyneham, UK, in November 1942. All five air crewmen were killed in the incident, but the exact cause of the crash remains a mystery.
As the UK's Ministry of Defence reports, the RAF's acting Sergeant Graham Moore was tipped to the exact location by a local farmer, and then, with the landowner's consent, initiated a detailed land survey. Not knowing the first thing about archaeology, and to help the RAF with their subsequent excavation, Moore invited the Op Nightingale team. Richard Long reports:
"Being an absolute novice I didn't have a clue what I was doing," said A/Sgt Moore. "I was put in touch with Richard Osgood, of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, who was working with the soldiers on the Salisbury Plain dig."
"They were asked if this was something they might be interested in and they couldn't wait to get involved. The guys are absolutely superb. They have so much information and know all the techniques of how to record different finds. We would not have been able to do this without their help."
Soon after the investigation started the team began to unearth their prizes. First it was ammunition casings and parachute buckles — and then they discovered a 12-foot (3.7 meter) section of fuselage. Surprisingly, they also discovered a Royal Australian Air Force cap.
But just as importantly, these discoveries are also offering the former soldiers an opportunity to reboot their lives. Afghanistan veteran Rowan Kendrick, who is now studying for an archaeology degree, says the program has changed his life:
"Before I deployed to Afghanistan I suffered a mental breakdown," he explained. "I had counselling and psychiatric therapy and a friend in the education centre told me about this.
"I have always been interested in history and archaeology so this was the next step. It is an excellent project and there are so many discoveries to make. But it is not just military-based, we have worked on Roman villas and cemeteries and we look to do something new every time. It helps me take my mind off things. When I'm on a dig I concentrate on that, I'm not stressing out or feeling anxious in any way."
Be sure to read the rest of the article at the MoD, including some more background information on the AL595 B-24 Liberator — and about the discovery of another bomber near the same site.
Images: Graeme Main/MOD.