Next month volunteers with Operation Nightingale will be in Aldbourne for an archaeological dig to find the remains of the huts used by the American ‘Band of Brothers’ airborne unit during their stay in the village before they took part in Operation Overlord’s D-Day assault on the Normandy beaches.
Operation Nightingale began in 2011, under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence, as an initiative to assist the recovery of soldiers injured in Afghanistan by getting them involved in archaeological investigations. With many successful digs completed, it now includes veterans still suffering the impact on their mental health from service in all recent conflict zones.
Operation Nightingale’s badge [above] emphasises the importance of health and wellbeing in this initiative and its therapeutic value. The badge alters the serpent and rod motif – symbol of medicine and health care in ancient Greece and adopted by the Royal Army Medical Corps – to include an archaeologist’s trowel.
E Company – known as Easy Company – of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division of the American army, were based in Aldbourne in 1943 – preparing for the invasion of Europe. They were among the first Allied troops dropped onto French soil on 6 June 1944 – their mission was to clear a way off Utah Beach for the American seaborne troops.
Their 1944 exploits in Hitler’s Europe were chronicled by the well-known American historian Stephen Ambrose in his book The Band of Brothers. Later his book became the basis for the very successful television miniseries by Home Box Office – also called The Band of Brothers.
The dig to find and search the Easy Company camp will take place on a village football field. It is being led by Richard Osgood, who is Senior Archaeologist with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. Like everybody working on the dig, he will be a volunteer – taking holiday to be there.
The leaders have been to Aldbourne for a recce and sussed out the two village pubs which feature in the Easy Company story – The Crown was used by ‘Other Ranks’ and was also the Company HQ and communications centre.
Osgood told marlborough.news: “The Parish Council have been brilliant – so supportive. It’s great to find a community so passionate about their history.”
Operation Nightingale has plans for about 20 British and American veterans from recent conflicts to work on the dig. All the organisers are qualified in mental health first aid.
A geophysical survey has already been carried out, revealing the outlines of the hits. Knowing precisely where the remains lie will allow a very efficient use of the time available for the dig.
And the football pitch? In the words of Richard Osgood: “Once we leave, you’ll never know we’ve even been there.”
Readers can get a very vivid – and frank! – account of what it was like when 1,000 American servicemen settled in around Aldbourne from an American who was there: David Webster.