THE OIL PATCH WARRIOR


“The Oil Patch Warrior”

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.

31 thoughts on “THE OIL PATCH WARRIOR

  1. Thank you JoNell for another piece of unknown history. Of course I was a baby at the time but I never heard of the drilling in Sherwood Forest. There’s so much that is unknown about our immediate predecessors and so much more to learn.

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  2. It was a fascinating story to me too. After I learned about it, I discovered there was a book written in 1973 and ordered it. It gives such details of how the Yanks got along with the monks and villagers. Such cooperation between UK and US. (I wasn’t born in March of 1943 but I was on the way!)

    Hope all is well with you, Judith. Thanks for the visit.

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  3. What a fascinating bit of history. I’ve never heard of this; for me, Sherwood Forest meant Robin Hood, and nothing else. I am going to pass this on to a blogging friend who lives in England. He’s in the New Forest rather than Sherwood, but generations of his family have lived in England, and he loves history.

    That statue is wonderful. There are warriors of every sort, and often the bravest and most accomplished are the least well known.

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    • From what I read the area is called Duke’s Wood today and part is a nature reserve. Here is a link http://www.dukeswoodoilmuseum.com/

      Yes, warriors come in many forms. I love finding the least known. It must have been an adventure for these mostly young men from Oklahoma and Texas to travel to England in the middle of WWII. Being a roughneck is a dangerous job in itself. I heard many tales from my father as he worked as a roughneck in his younger years.

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    • So do I – I got really distracted on research on this one. From what I read the area is called Duke’s Wood and part is a nature preserve. Would love to visit! You should visit your relative there. Have a good weekend, Marie! I am sure you have some adventure planned.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Glad I could provide something new for you, Al. The book is really well documented as the authors had access to the oil companies records and were able to interview some of the participants. We are losing so many of that generation every day and everyone has a story. Thanks for stopping by!

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    • I love learning things off the beaten track, especially if they involve Texas. May father worked on drilling rigs in his younger days so this was really interesting to me as I could just imagine if he had volunteered. What an adventure for these young men. Hope all is well with you and no fires are near your area. Take care.

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  4. Dear Jo Nell, I was thrilled with the story of the oil patch warriors. I am a world war 1 and 2 history buff and this quietly kept bit of history is fascinating. I have ordered the book The Secret of Sherwood Forrest, to add to my collection. Much has been said about the reluctance of the US to enter the world war 2, and this is such a positive story it is important that it should be shared. Hope all is well with you and Bill. All is fine here on the farm. XXXXX Virginia

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  5. So glad you liked it! You will not be disappointed with the book; it has many photographs too. The authors had access to documents and interviewed some who were part of it. The stories of these roughnecks interacting with the monks and locals was delightful. And the American oil companies agreed to do it for expenses only to break even. It was encouraging to read of two countries coming together to make something happen. Crossing the Atlantic was dangerous at that time.

    My father worked on rigs from Texas to Colorado in his younger days. I heard so many tales of drilling from him so I was familiar with some of the drilling descriptions. And he never mentioned this – apparently he did not know either even years later! Happy all is well on the farm!

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