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.