In search of A R Woods

Following recent publicity, could the net be closing in on the WWII Ness Battery mural painter?

Rural English Scene by A R Woods

Could this be a reminder of home?

A mysterious World War II mural at the Ness Gun Battery in Orkney, painted by A R Woods, has led to a worldwide search for the artist.

The Ness Gun Battery guarded one of the entrances to the naval anchorage of Scapa Flow, which formed an important part of Britain’s defences in World War Two.

Ness gun battery

The Ness Battery is the most important World War II coast gun battery in the country.  It includes the original concrete structures (gun emplacements, battery observation post and engine room) but is exceptional in having the original 1938 wooden camp buildings, which are the only surviving examples of their kind in the UK.

It is also famed for its striking mural on the walls of the mess hut, depicting a rural English scene and signed by a mysterious, AR Woods.

The site was acquired by the Council from the Ministry of Defence in 2002 and the project now forms part of the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership.   Tours were held at the site throughout 2010, with around 600 people attending.


Conservation work is due to begin on the site this year, and historians hope they can finally identify the artist, as previous attempts to solve the mystery have failed.

Julian Branscombe, Project Manager for the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership, said:

“This site has survived very well over the last 73 years. However, the buildings now need a lot of work, particularly the wooden accommodation huts.

These huts would benefit from woodwork and repainting, and complete replacement of the roofing. The 1970s suspended ceiling will be removed in the mess hall – this will allow the newly re-discovered mural above to be readily seen once more.

There is no certainty that this is our man, but he certainly painted
Julian Branscombe, Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership

Issuing these Invitations to Tender to our four potential contractors is an important step in securing the future of this wonderful Scheduled Ancient Monument.”

Orkney Islands Council is receiving funds for the works from the European Regional Development Fund, Historic Scotland and Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Worldwide response

The response since the story went on the internet, and Reporting Scotland, has been worldwide, with encouragement from as far afield as Dayton,

A R Woods

Is this our mysterious artist?

Ohio, and all kinds of possibilities suggested, including a picture of a Mr A R Woods, who is a likely candidate.

A R Woods

Mr Branscombe said; “There is no certainty that this is our man, but he certainly painted, and is the sort of person who the Navy may have sent to Orkney to assist with the naval Examination Service, which was the section of the Navy which was based in the middle of the Royal Artillery (Army) camp at Ness Battery”.

This man would have been in his early 60s at the building of Ness Battery and the start of WWII, and there is currently no documentary evidence that he made it to Orkney.

Searches are continuing, and Mr Branscombe is confident that they will pull all this together in the end. It is hoped that just as they did with the Italian Chapel, they will discover the story of the painting of the mural, and be able to trace descendants of AR Woods, so that they can be brought to Orkney to see it.

If you feel you have any information that would help this quest, please contact us using the comments section at the end of this article.

Other pictures in the mess office depict caravans and the frontage of a cottage.

More information

The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Search on over WWII mural mystery – BBC Scotland
Search to find Ness Battery artist – Broadcast from BBC Scotland