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Monday, 15 July 2013

Ness Battery, Stromness

Ness Battery Observation Post
Before my visitors arrived I had the chance to finally visit Ness Battery in Stromness, which played a vital role in the defence of Scapa Flow during both WWI and WWII. It was opened to the public in 2012 as part of the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership project, and guided tours are now provided by archaeologist Andy Holinrake, who has a special interest in wartime history. I would definitely recommend his tour - it's informal, filled with facts and anecdotes, told in an easy style.

Ness Battery is the only coastal battery in Britain to still have the wooden wartime accommodation huts. These have been made wind and watertight and painted to protect them. The "jewel in the crown" for me is the Mess Hall, which has an amazing mural around the walls, painted by A.R. Woods who grew up in Gravesend in Kent (not far from where I was born and lived).  There are bucolic scenes of rural Kentish life, with oast houses, thatched roof cottages, gypsy caravans and orchards.

A Windmill believed to be from Gravesend

The mural depicted interiors too - complete with a black cat in the corner!

A part of the mural has been cleaned and shows the original bright colours.

There is also the Battery Motto painted on a screen - "Come the three corners of the world in ships and we will sink them" ( a version of Shakespeare's speech in King John which says "Come the three corners of the world in arms, and we shall shock them..."

Outside there are the remains of the concrete towers, gun emplacements, ammunition stores and other buildings necessary to the running of the camp.

Gun Emplacement

Some ammunition was stored nearby in the gun emplacement.

Although this Battery is on land, it was actually jointly run by the Army and Navy, with relations between the two eased by the army personnel being awarded the daily ration of rum of their navy compatriots!

Ness Battery was one of three to defend the Western entrance to Scapa Flow. The other two were the Graemsay battery and the  Skerry Battery on Hoy.  Through the mist you can just make out the Graemsay Battery, next to Hoy Low Lighthouse.

And those huts I mentioned earlier - separate ones for Officers and other orders of course ;-)

Now, I am NOT doing justice to the Ness Battery, nor to Andy's tour. I'm more interested in the social history aspect of the place and it's impact on local people and those that were stationed there. So I loved the anecdotes and stories. The technical details is somewhat wasted on me ;-)   So PLEASE do look at other resources if you are interested (or contact Andy himself on the Ness Battery Website link below- he's particularly interested to hear from folk who have been at the Battery during war and peace time).

Other resources :  Ness Battery Website; Scapa Flow website; aerial photos; Orkney Defence Interest Network (ODIN)

There's also a brilliant Souvenir Guide written by Andy Holinrake and Fran Flett Holinrake which is well worth getting if you are in Orkney.