MILITARY veterans have been involved in carrying out excavations at a historic invasion site to help aid their rehabilitation.

The barracks site in Weeley was built in 1803 at the start of the Napoleonic wars when a French invasion was feared.

It hosted the regiments which would then garrison the Martello towers along the Essex coast.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Structure - The building foundations at the barracks in WeeleyStructure - The building foundations at the barracks in Weeley (Image: Oxford Archaeology)

Archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology, along with RPS Consulting and developers Rose Builders have teamed up with Operation Nightingale to include military veterans in the project.

Louise Moan, project manager at Oxford Archaeology, said: “This project has been an unusual one, because it’s rare that we get to investigate this type of remains from this period.

“What has been so wonderful is being able to tie the evidence uncovered on the ground with historical records, which enables us to get a true feel for the barracks the men stationed there.”

Operation Nightingale is a military initiative developed to use archaeology as a means of aiding the recovery of service personnel injured in recent conflict.

Read more >> Ex-marine takes part in fundraising dip following fourth cancer diagnosis

In 2021, archaeologists started excavations at Barrack Field in Weeley and military records from the time stated the barracks housed more than 4,000 troops and some of their families, but the full extent and plan of the barracks was lost once the Napoleonic threat was over in 1815.

All the buildings were dismantled and the materials recovered were sold, so archaeologists looked for remains of foundations, walls and floors.

Despite covering only three and a half hectares out of the 25 hectares of the whole camp, the work carried out by Oxford Archaeology ahead of a new housing development by Rose Builders brought the barracks back to life.

The team identified at least 16 buildings which included two larger ones that, with several fireplaces and partition walls, must have housed officers above average accommodation.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Heirloom - A buckle plate with the name J.T. Miller scored into it.Heirloom - A buckle plate with the name J.T. Miller scored into it. (Image: Oxford Archaeology)

Nick Cooke,  of RPS Consulting, added: “The construction of the barracks on their doorstep must have been a tremendous change for the villagers of Weeley.

“Certainly, the numbers of both baptisms and deaths in the parish register rose sharply as soldiers’ wives and girlfriends gave birth, and as men returned injured and dying from campaigns.

“It’s very rare that we get to investigate sites of this nature, and to tell the stories of the common soldiers as well as their officers and generals.”

Routeways, drains, and ditches showed the level of organisation and management the site required.

However, it is the small finds which opened a window into daily life at Weeley barracks as coins, buttons, clay pipes, pins and a thimble all testify to the activities that would have filled the soldiers’ days while they were waiting for their next posting.

Items like a stamp for wax seals and a buckle plate with its owner’s initials engraved on it particularly stand out as personal possessions dropped or lost by mistake and buried to be found, over 200 years later, by archaeologists and Operation Nightingale’s former soldiers.

Will Vote, planning manager at Rose Builders, said: “This has been a great opportunity to take a step back in time and find out what life would have been like here over 200 years ago.”