Op Nightingale: Helping Veterans' Recovery In Akrotiri

The exercise is designed to help former personnel recover from physical and mental injuries.

A group of injured service personnel are taking part an exercise in Cyprus designed to aid recovery.

Operation Nightingale is an archaeology scheme part of Exercise Artemis, a joint project between Cypriot archaeologists and the UK Defence Archaeology Group.

It is hoped the dig will help veterans suffering from physical and mental injuries.

They have been working alongside Cypriot and UK archaeologists at a site near Akrotiri believed to date back to the seventh century.

It is regarded as one of the most important excavations in the Mediterranean for decades.

On the site are the remnants of what archaeologists believe may well have been a hugely significant site of Christian pilgrimage, second only to the Holy Land.

It is now hidden deep within the coastal scrubland just outside RAF Akrotiri.

What is believed to be an early Christian church dates back more than 1,400 years.

Dr Eleni Procopiou, University of Athens, told Forces News about the excavation: "The south wing, to which we are concentrated from 2007, revealed two ecclesiastical monuments, which are part of a complex. They are both dated to the beginning of the seventh century.

"It is an imperial complex, an imperial building, it is not something which is common for the architecture – early Christian architecture – of the island."

op nightingale archaeology
One of the finds that makes this site so special is a vast mosaic made from thousands of tiny tiles, each one set by hand.

Major Harry Wallace, Officer in Charge of Exercise Artemis, talked about the rehabilitation aspect of the exercise: "The Op Nightingale programme is actually to do with getting wounded and injured personnel back into full strength, moving on with their lives.

"One of the unfortunate things of having an injury is very often you find yourself isolated.

"You’re not surrounded by your friends and family and the banter that we have in the forces family, and that’s not really what the forces is about.

"We find that by bringing people back into an environment like this, they start to talk to each other, they start to rediscover their worth.

"They’ve done some really fantastic work out here, but also a start to get a sense of being back, and they start to get back into the sense of being in the Army or the military family."

Among those taking part is Petty Officer Clare Wildish, who suffered an injury to her upper spine that left her unable to work.

She talked about her experience: "We’ve been out here nearly two weeks now. I heard about it back in June, applied for it, and was good enough to get on it.

"Since I’ve been out here it’s done me some good because I’ve found that I can do a lot more without getting fatigued so quickly as I was back at home." 

A number of graduate archaeologists from several UK universities are also taking part.

A mosaic is one of the best examples of its kind ever discovered in this region, and experts think this may have been the floor of a private chapel.

Each of the finds is carefully recorded and removed for safekeeping.