THE DRILLERS OF SHERWOOD FOREST3RD FEBRUARY 2020 — ROGER VERNON

It is a little-known fact that a group of American oil work­ers “rough­necks” came over to Sherwood Forest during the Second World War on a top secret pro­ject to drill for oil to supply the British war effort.

Since the start of World War Two the supply of oil was vital to main­tain the armed forces. This had mainly been provided by fleets of tankers sail­ing from America but by 1942 German U boats were sink­ing 700,00 tonnes of ship­ping per month. At that time, it was repor­ted that there was only two months’ supply of oil left.

At an emer­gency meet­ing of the Oil Control Board in London Philip Southwell, man­aging dir­ector of the D’Arcy Oil Company, sug­ges­ted using a site around Duke’s Wood and Eakring in Sherwood Forest where the exist­ence of oil had already been estab­lished. The ques­tion was how this could be achieved given that man­power and equip­ment were in short supply. Also, the exist­ing equip­ment was old, heavy and dif­fi­cult to man­oeuvre between sites. The solu­tion was to approach America for help.

Southwell flew to the US in September 1942 and it was agreed by the American admin­is­tra­tion that the D’Arcy Company could employ a con­tractor to carry out the neces­sary work. The Noble Drilling Corporation based in Oklahoma took on the con­tract and agreed not to make any profit on the deal.

 

              1 THE ROUGHNECKS OF SHERWOOD FOREST

In February 1943 42 oil work­ers arrived in the UK under the strict­est secrecy. Why did they volun­teer for the task? It has been sug­ges­ted the fact that they could avoid mil­it­ary ser­vice had a lot to do with it! In March four American jack-knife rigs and other drilling equip­ment were shipped to the UK in sep­ar­ate ves­sels. Unfortunately, one rig was lost – the ship car­ry­ing it having been tor­pedoed by U boats.

The men (aver­age age 24) were bil­leted in Kelham Hall,which at that time was a mon­as­tery, as it was felt an ideal place for forty two vir­u­lent young American gen­tle­men! Life was tough – they were sub­jec­ted to harsh ration­ing of food and fuel, they had no local sup­port or know­ledge and were largely ignored by the local res­id­ents. They worked twelve hour shifts, with four men per shift, every single day for a year. Tragically one worker was killed when he fell 55 feet from a drilling mast.

The result was that during the year they were here, they drilled 106 wells of which 94 pro­duced oil. By 1945 1.4 mil­lion bar­rels of oil had been pro­duced as after March 1944 D’Arcy con­tin­ued to pro­duce oil from the Eakring and Duke’s Wood sites. The oil extrac­ted was delivered by rail to a refinery at Grangemouth in Scotland.

How were the American crews able to pro­duce oil in greater quant­it­ies and at greater speed than their British coun­ter­parts? They had better logist­ics, they took more risks (not sur­pris­ingly no Health and Safety reg­u­la­tions) and they were able to reduce pro­duc­tion times through the repe­ti­tion of reg­u­lar tasks.

Two bronze statues were erec­ted in trib­ute to the Oil Patch Warriors, one in Duke’s Wood in 1991 and another in Ardmore Oklahoma in 2001. Unfortunately, the one in Duke’s Wood was van­dal­ised and has been replaced by another in Rufford Abbey Sculpture Park where it can be seen today.

2 STATUE AT RUFFORD PARK

Roger Vernon again provided a fas­cin­at­ing talk and we look for­ward to wel­com­ing him back for fur­ther enlight­en­ment on the oil industry.