From Afghanistan to Archaeology

British soldiers injured in Afghanistan have a unique opportunity to study archaeology degrees at the University of Leicester.

The University’s School of Archaeology & Ancient History is offering a special fee scheme to facilitate their studies.

The cost of distance-learning courses for injured soldiers will remain fixed at last year’s rate – despite the general tripling of tuition fees for university courses in September.

This School initiative in support of wounded UK service personnel, which will initially last for three years, is strongly backed by the University.

A number of injured soldiers have already signed up to take distance-learning courses in the School, and more are expected to enrol for October.


These military recruits to the University developed a taste for studying the human past through their participation in Operation Nightingale, an award-winning project which uses archaeology to help soldiers injured during Britain’s war in Afghanistan.

5990: Newly-enrolled University of Leicester Distance Learning archaeology student Rifleman Rowan Kendrick (right) of 1st Battalion, the Rifles, explains a sixth-century Anglo-Saxon burial he has just excavated to his colleague and fellow-student Corporal Steve Winterton, archaeology lecturer Deirdre O’Sullivan, and DL Administrator Kathy Ashley (left). Rfn Kendrick and Cpl Winterton were participating in OPERATION NIGHTINGALE’s excavation at Barrow Clump, Wilts. Photo credit: Simon James

Operation Nightingale, which has just won a prestigious British Archaeology Award, was the brainchild of Diarmaid Walshe, a qualified archaeologist and former infantryman. He came up with the idea while serving as medical sergeant with 1st Battalion, the Rifles.

His vision was to get soldiers who had suffered physical and psychological injuries on operations involved in archaeological excavation as a form of occupational activity, to help them in their recovery.

Strongly supported by the British Army, Operation Nightingale was developed in collaboration with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) which has responsibility for archaeological remains on Ministry of Defence sites, with the University of Leicester recently joining as academic partner.

The School has been closely involved with Operation Nightingale’s excavations of a Roman building at Caerwent in South Wales, and in July its students also joined the soldiers in investigating Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon burials at Barrow Clump, Wiltshire, in collaboration with Wessex Archaeology and Channel 4’s Time Team.

Operation Nightingale’s success in helping injured personnel find new motivation is evident on site. The School of Archaeology & Ancient History is delighted to be able to offer these soldiers a special route to pursue archaeology further, through distance learning degrees which will also aid their career development once they leave the Army.

As part of their degrees, they will be able to take part in further digs and will have access to online resources including lessons and academic texts.

Leicester-born Corporal Steve Winterton has signed up to the study programme after working on Operation Nightingale since the project’s first season at the East Chisenbury Midden in Wiltshire last year.

Cpl Winterton, who has spent 15 years with the army, said: “This is something I never thought I would do. My army background has been a great asset in the field and the experience of ‘doing’ archaeology has made me realise that I can go ahead with degree-level study.

“The distance learning programme means that I can continue with Operation Nightingale at the same time, combining study and practice straight away in fieldwork projects. I’m doing my first assignment on the use of non-invasive survey techniques in archaeology because I can easily relate theory and action in this area.”

Rifleman Rowan Kendrick, who is originally from Leeds and is currently based in Germany, will shortly leave the army and take up the degree full-time.

He said: “Operation Nightingale has helped me to focus on the future, and the distance learning study programme should give me an opportunity to further my education and a future career.”

Surgeon Commodore Peter Buxton OBE, commander of the Defence Medical Group and himself a graduate of Leicester’s MA in Archaeology by Distance Learning, said: “The very generous support of the University of Leicester in setting up the Reduced Fees Scheme provides an outstanding educational opportunity for those service personnel participating in Operation Nightingale to complement the practical skills they are learning in the field with an academic qualification. Whatever they chose to do in the future this will stand them in very good stead”

Deirdre O’Sullivan, Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology, who has helped organise the scheme, said: “We have good experience and a strong reputation in distance learning, and believe that we can do something really useful here. We are also very impressed with the Ministry of Defence’s own long term commitment to the wellbeing of injured military personnel, and believe we are privileged to be a part of an innovative, creative and intelligent way of addressing the challenges involved.”

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Contributing Source : University of Leicester

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