While researching for a writing project involving WWII draft classification codes, I discovered this bit of obscure history.
In March of 1943 a group of men departed New York on HMS Queen Elizabeth bound for London on a secret mission to do their part for WWII. They were 42 roughnecks from Oklahoma and Texas who volunteered for a one year contract to drill oil wells in Sherwood Forest for the British government.
Oil was essential for Brittan and its Allies. Production for oil was up in the United States, but Britain was falling behind and oil tankers from the United States and other countries were often sunk or blocked by German U-boats. The British government sent a representative of the oil industry to the United States seeking drilling rigs, pipes, drill bits and other related equipment that the British badly needed to replace some of their own.
In the negotiations two American companies, Nobles Drilling Corporation, headquartered in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Fain-Porter Drilling Company, headquartered in Oklahoma City, partnered with D’Arcy Exploration Company, a British oil company. The US companies would provide the crews and drilling equipment to drill 100 wells in the heart of Britain’s only oil field deep in Sherwood Forest. The wells there were shallow, equipment was inadequate and many of the men doing the drilling were inexperienced as the war had taken many away.
The project was a secret mission with the men allowed to tell only their immediate families where they were going. London was already being bombed by the Germans and the oil field needed to continue to be kept secreted beneath the cover of the ancient forest safe from German planes. Rigs and equipment would be painted a green to blend in and camouflage them. The 42 roughnecks were housed at monastery run by monks.
By the end of the contract the 106 wells had been completed and oil production was up substantially. The men returned home in March of 1944 with the satisfaction of knowing they had made a contribution to the war efforts.
One man was left behind, Herman Douthit from Texas, a derrick hand who had died when he fell from a derrick. He was buried at the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, one of the few civilians buried there.
The sculpture in the photo above is “The Oil Patch Warrior” and stands in Ardmore, Oklahoma as a tribute to the 42 men and erected in 2001. It is a replica of the original erected in 1991 near Nottingham England as a memorial to honor the 42 roughnecks and the oil industry. American sculptor Jay O’Melia designed the original.
A book, The Secrets of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II, by Guy H. Woodward and Grace Steele Woodward, is an excellent history of the events.
Below is less than 2 minute video with old photos.