On to Dukes Wood and the Monks of Kelham
Rosser and Walker took the late afternoon train to Grantham, it was full of commuters. It had been emphasised in their meetings in London that the Oil field was secret and that even people living in the area were unaware of the activities on their doorstep. The desire to talk about the job in the crowded compartments had to be overcome. On arrival at Grantham they were met again by Philip Southwell who took them to dinner with the Southwell's home at the Seven Mile Post.
The following morning they were taken to the D'Arcy Exploration Company Offices at the Burgage Manor in Southwell which was the former home of Lord Byron's mother. The big question uppermost in their minds at this time were suitable living quarters for the rest of the boys when they finally came over. Southwell took them to the field office near the village of Eakring [now the site of National Grid and Centre Parks offices] to meet the staff there. The offices can been seen from Dukes Wood and are less than half a mile away. Wally Sole, superintendent of field communications for D'Arcy never forgot the moment when Rosser entered the Eakring office. Rosser was wearing a five-gallon hat and leather jacket, he heard the remark "Where do you suppose he's tied his horse?"
Rosser felt that it would be better if the American oil workers should be kept together. The average age of the Roughnecks was 24, Rosser and Walker felt that keeping them together would alleviate the boredom and the homesickness. Southwell took the two of them to the Anglican Monastery at Kelham Hall on the side of the River Trent. The monastery was being used by the Society of the Sacred Mission as a theological seminary for the education of candidates for the ministry in the Anglican faith.
The wash-up facilities here made the choice ideal, oil rig workers don't mind getting dirty but they need a place to shower. But the most critical advantage was that the site was isolated from the local community, nobody would ask awkward questions here. They all agreed with Southwell that this was the ideal place for the American oilfield workers hired to work in Britain's most secret oil field. The choice of the place may well curtail some of the expected hell-raising also.
Rosser noted at this time that conditions were 'as cold as hell' in Britain in March 1943 but he also noted that the best thing was 'the long walks in the woods'. One of Rosser's duties at this time were to get identity cards for the 44 workers and these, he noted that they were to be signed by the 'Sheriff of Nottingham'. What he did not know at this time was that the Queen Elizabeth was leaving New York with a precious cargo of 12,000 soldiers and civilians engaged in war work, these civilians being the 42 American oil workers. The ship was surrounded by protective destroyers.
Rosser with Brother Edgar at Kelham Monastery
The work starts
The Americans first job was to drill 'Eakring 98', there were already 97 wells drilled and producing. Rosser had used the local oil workers to prepare mud pits and the wooden decking required for the rigs when they arrived. The D'Arcy lorry drivers were bringing the equipment from Liverpool to Eakring as it arrived, it was March 9th. Two International Harvester trucks had arrived with winches and gin-poles and the 'City of Edinburgh' had brought in some more equipment. By March 14th they were assembling the first 87ft jack-knife rig. Meanwhile Walker was getting acquainted with the D'Arcy operating system. On March 16th Rosser heard for the first time the roar of German bombers, they guessed that they were heading for either Sheffield or Birmingham.
Walker eventually heard the news that the rest of the 42 workers would be arriving at Kelham Hall. When Walker saw E.E. Edens climb down from the train with a banjo and another had a fiddle case he uttered "Oh my God!" He didn't know at this time that they also had several French harps in their pockets. He was worried about what the Monks would make of this. As it turned out, most of the banjo and fiddle playing was done in 'The Fox' pub right across the road from the monastery. The country music played and sung by them and the ballads taught them by the English would in time prove to be a real area of good feeling. Throughout their time at Kelham Hall, monastery rules were adhered to, the "Rogues and Robes" got along fine.
Sunday March 21st was Don Walkers birthday, Rosser was in bed with a cold and a sore throat. Walker reflected that the boys had arrived safely and there was no serious illness in the camp. However Monday arrived but most of the drilling equipment hadn't arrived yet. Rosser set the men to work using one of D'Arcy's A.C. rigs. J.W Nickle - driller, derrickman Gerry Griffin, helper Little Joe Webster and motorman Glenny Gates were assigned to the morning tour [twelve hour shift]. Horace Hobbs - driller, derrickman Ed Boucher, helper Al Morton and motorman John McIlwain took the afternoon tour.
The D'Arcy rigs were equipped for wartime operation. Telephones with loud klaxons were considered a necessity in case of air raids. They were also used for drilling reports and related field information. The lighting was perhaps the most difficult wartime necessity to overcome. Two small shaded lights at opposite corners of the derrick floor were permitted. One similar light served the doghouse and another light was located near the mud pumps. The lights were to be no more than 1 candle power for each foot above the floor.
The D'Arcy Office was surprised to hear that the first tour by Nickle's crew reported 1010 feet at the end of the morning. This was unprecedented, no D'Arcy crew had done 1010 feet in one tour. Nickle had got a call from the D'Arcy rep Sandy Bremner who didn't believe the report and wanted to know how many drill bits they had used. Nickle exploded "What the hell has changing the bits got to do with it. Why should a bit be changed if it's making holes?" It was the difference between the English and American drilling practices and it was the main reason that Southwell had been convinced that only four rigs were necessary to drill the required 100 wells in the allotted time. The English crews changed the bits at regular intervals and the Americans did not. Bremner was convinced that the Americans would wreck the equipment. They didn't.
Another new innovation they brought to D'Arcy was 'the self loading truck' the Americans used for transporting heavy machinery around. This one innovation along with the International Harvester trucks cut down the movement time for the 134ft D'Arcy A.C. derrick to about one third of time. These rigs had been designed for drilling much deeper wells [8000 to 10000 ft] than were at Eakring.
Rosser and McGill had made a trip to Cardiff docks to pick up more trucks that had arrived. The customs officer impounded Rosser's cigars after they tried to charge him $32.25. Rosser couldn't argue long as the trucks were not fitted with the regulation blackout night driving lights and had to move in daylight only and it was getting dark. They started out the following day for Nottingham but the big K-8 truck developed a problem with the power transfer gearbox and had to return to Cardiff where a Welsh mechanic and themselves sorted the problem out, this delayed them for another day.
The following day was April fools day. At 06:30 the on April 1st they left Cardiff again and about 10:00 a sign saying 'Fish & Chips' was sighted, having missed breakfast and had no dinner the night before, they were ready for food. The lady serving in the small restaurant said she had no Fish and had run out of chips but she'll make them a pot of tea and a toasted cheese sandwich. McGill said "It don't make no difference. We'll eat anything that doesn't bite us first".
Another story regarding food was when Bob Christy had cycled to Newark and saw Welsh Rarebit as the specialty of the day in the Clinton Arms Hotel. He decided to try that, but he called the back the waiter and protested that it couldn't be rabbit as there wasn't any bones in it.
There was another problem with the food, the heavy workload plus the wartime rations were taking their toll. Bob Christie had lost 32 lbs in six weeks. This was solved by the generous Monks at Kelham Hall allowing the Roughnecks to grow some vegetables in the monastery grounds and there had been a help from the local pheasant population and the rampant black market. However in one incident Brussels sprouts were offered for breakfast. Also a deal was made with the American Army after much groundwork was done by Rosser in persuading General John C H Lee to intercede on the ration problem.
Rosser offers suggestions to the British on how to reduce drilling time
Southwell had become impressed with the speed the Americans were drilling the wells. It was noted at this time that the American crews could complete a well in the Eakring area in about a week on average, whereas the British took on average five weeks. Therefore Southwell asked Rosser to come to London and explain to the Anglo-Iranian Oil company bosses how things could improve.
Rosser told them that greater freedom should be given to the crews to work on their own initiative, that the drill bit should not be arbitrarily changed every 300 feet but that it should be only changed if the hole wasn't going fast enough. Much time was lost continually pulling out the piping to change the bit. Rosser told them that heavy drilling mud should only be used if you are likely to encounter formation pressures that must be controlled. Drilling with water will reduce drilling time dramatically where it is safe to do so, as in the Dukes Wood and Eakring areas.
He explained that the British drilling crews were waiting 72 hours before testing the cement jobs on the wells they are drilling and that they have reduced waiting time to 48 hours with not a single problem encountered. He suggested the time that could be saved by skidding the whole rig derrick rather than dismantling it every time. Having the water and fuel connections at the location by the time the rig is on the drill site and having the cement at the location ahead of the time it is needed. Rosser suggested that one British oil worker should join each American crew.
The American crews were putting the wells on line on average at one per week. In justification of the British crews it should be noted that the rigs they were using had not been designed for the shallow drilling of Eakring but the much deeper drilling requirement in Persia. It is also to be noted that the each and every able bodied man had to submit himself to military service. British drilling crews, except the actual drillers, were largely inexperienced and in some cases had been rejected for military service for medical reasons. At the beginning of the war the requirement for experienced oil workers in the UK sector was not foreseen as being great and so most had gone into the armed services. It had been wholly the military who had decided who went where and a good many people with mechanical expertise had gone into the RAF where, at the beginning of the war and throughout 1940 and 1941, these requirements had been more immediate. This was Britain half way through it's fifth year at war whilst America was half way through it's second year [not counting the 24 days of 1941] . Priorities had refocused.
Despite the ever increasing supply of equipment from the docks there had been some losses to enemy submarines. By July 5th three of the mobile National rigs were credited with the completion of 25 wells. Completion would obviously increase when the fourth National rig could be put into service.
One rig had to be shut down for 2 hours because of electrical failure of the bombed power lines. Another problem was the well troubles, lost time was sometimes due to fishing exercises [pulling broken pipe out of wells]. Another rig had dropped 1600 feet of drill pipe into the hole and another had lost time because of a struck pipe. The problems were keeping the toolpusher Gordon Sams busy and irritated. It was noted that the crews were not as alert as they had been at the beginning and the pressure was telling. It was at this time too that D'Arcy announced that they wanted wells at 2½ acre intervals instead of the original 5 acre intervals. This produced additional pressure.
Rosser found also that the ships now arriving at the docks where taking time to offload their cargoes this was causing them to wait 36 hours in some cases. During the drilling of a test well at Nocton where the American crews were drilling below 5000ft, they were on their way there when they encountered a British Military convoy fully equipped for combat, clearly they were moving somewhere for embarkation. The curious encounter resulted in cooperation between the two without either telling the other precisely what they were up to and they managed to pass each other on the narrow English roads.
Rosser had written in his diary that November 11th 1943 would be his most important day of his life, little did he know that within 48hours tragedy would hit all the crews of Eakring. On this day he had arranged to meet Major General C.H.Lee Commanding officer of SOS (Services of Supply) European theatre of war who had agreed to supply the extra rations to the workers.
On Saturday morning November 13th 1943 Walker had set off in his Plymouth for the supply depot at Burton-on-Trent to pick up the weekly American food rations. Rosser with Robbie Robinson driving a K-7 truck headed for Liverpool docks to pick up a C-100 pump and supplies. The day was heavily overcast with thick fog that hung close to the ground. He was explaining to Robbie about meeting the General as the truck pulled up outside the guardhouse on the docks where he was to meet the shipping agent. As he climbed down from the truck Rosser was told that he had an emergency telephone call from Kelham Hall.
Walker was on the telephone with some bad news. Herman Douthit had fallen from the double board of the drilling mast at location 148 in Dukes Wood and had been killed. Rosser's knees were seen to buckle when he heard the news and the man in the guardhouse pushed a chair under Rosser and picked up the telephone receiver. They immediately started back to Kelham Hall. They pulled into the courtyard of Kelham Hall at about 09:00pm, everyone was in sombre mood.
Arrangements were made with the Chaplain Carlsen at the American General Hospital in Mansfield for the funeral. Rosser then caught a train to advise the American Embassy of Herman's death and to discuss the possibility of sending his body back to the States. The officials of the Embassy explained that the shipment of the body home at this time was impossible due to wartime regulations. Rosser sent a telegram to Noble's Tulsa office that Colonel Irish had arranged the burial with full military honours in the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. Rosser telegrammed Mrs Douthit that if after the war she desired, Herman's body would be shipped home.
His funeral was attended by his American as well as his British friends he had made since arriving at Kelham. Many who came could not all get into the church. The services were conducted by the Chaplain from the Mansfield General Hospital and the minister of the Parish Church. All rigs were shut down from 6:00 am to 6:00pm as a mark of respect.
It had been 11:30am when Herman Douthit had been on the derrick at location 148 at Dukes Wood he had gone up for the purpose of attaching a rope to the platform. He was coming back down to take the catline off when he fell about 55 feet. He died of head injuries. He was 29 years old. He left a wife, Louise.
Herman Douthit is now buried at the American military cemetery, in Cambridge, England. His cross says 'Herman Douthit - civilian' . He is the only civilian buried on this cemetery at Plot C, Row S, Grave 2.
Christmas 1943 and onwards
Despite the tragedy the teams looked forward to Christmas and Walker was busily arranging details for the holiday. Despite the past few weeks everyone had been driving pretty hard irrespective of the time lost through fishing exercises. Rosser and Walker had been pleased of the way they had behaved at Kelham Hall. Despite Herman Douthit's accident and the mean fracture of Webster's arm that refused to heal properly the Roughnecks remained surprisingly healthy. The Mansfield General Hospital had given assistance when required and with the exception of three or four occasions when someone was retained there everyone remained healthy. There had been little lost time off for injuries.
There was now enough food with the assistance of the army G-20 depot at Burton-on-Trent and the Christmas menu featured turkey and of course the black market was in full operation with some of the locals in the Kelham and Eakring area. The Americans warmed to the English tradition of having four days holiday over Christmas 1943.
Work continued however, especially on Nocton No3 which was proving to be a problem. Finally they gave up and plugged it with some 4½ inch pipe still down the hole and skidded the rig to another site. By the Wednesday the rig had been skidded to a new location. Rosser and McGill made a trip to Sheffield to get oil filters and a Grease gun, the weather continued bad. Rosser stayed at the Saracen's Head in nearby Lincoln that night.
As the holiday season drew to a close the pressure on the America teams to produce more oil eased off. The oil situation in Great Britain had greatly improved since September and even the bus services started getting more fuel. The coming year was to be marked with some historical events but mostly they were looking forward to going home.
Preparing for going home
Competition amongst the drilling crews had become a natural development. Those who had originally embarked as drillers continued to be drillers with the exception of H.A.Hobbs who had quit to return home and was replaced by Lewis Dugger. There had been a few interchanges of crew because of illness and brief days off for rest. The friendly rivalry had contributed to the rapid well completions and D'Arcy and Anglo-Iranian oil were very pleased.
By the spring of 1944 there had been many military successes of the Allies, the enemy had been driven from North Africa and Sicily and Italy had opened up the Mediterranean. With the defence against the U-boat in the North Atlantic, oil reserves were now increasing in the UK. Three million allied fighting forces waited on the British mainland for the day and hour when the war would be carried to mainland Europe.
On the weekend that the American rigs had finished their 365 drilling days, Rosser and Lewis Dugger took off for London for the purpose of celebrating Mrs Dugger's arrival. Rosser provided a room for them at the Hotel Carlston whilst he stayed at a hotel in Piccadilly. No one could have foreseen that it was this very night that the Germans decided to make a final gesture and attack London. The Saturday night of March 4th 1944 will be one that the Duggers would remember for a long time. Rosser was out early the following morning and was appalled at all of the damage. He was unable to telephone the Carlston Hotel so he made his way round to the Carlston Hotel on foot. When he reached the block where the hotel had stood he was horrified to see that it had been hit. Rosser was told that the Duggers were not in the part that had been hit and had been evacuated that night.
Over 600 Londoners had been killed that night and hospitals were continuing to receive the injured. Rosser checked the hospitals and was reassured that Mr & Mrs Dugger were not on the list of dead or injured. Rosser waited hoping for a call when finally he received a call from a village in Wales and that they were on their way back to Newark. On Monday March 6th the three of them had breakfast together at the Clinton Arms Hotel in Newark.
The contract between the Anglo-Iranian oil company and the Noble and Fain/Porter companies had been terminated with the fulfilment of the drilling of the one hundred wells and the 365 drilling days carried out by the drill crews. 94 of the holes drilled were producing high quality oil, they had drilled 106 in total. Nocton No3 was the only well that had to be plugged as a lost hole. This remarkable achievement had been carried out in wartime conditions.
Walker and Rosser left on the HMS Mauritania, a troop transport, on March 3rd from Greenock. Their job done they were to also take home the 37 remaining roughnecks that had come over to Britain. After having a time gathering them all together they left on the train from Newark bound for Glasgow.
They left for home March 3rd 1944.
From 1944 - 1945 they would have added another 1,231,346 barrels to the total output of Eakring oilfield making a total of 3,520,553 barrels in total shipped to the refineries.
A fitting memory
The curator of Dukes Wood Oil Museum, Kevin Topham, stands next to a tree in the Dukes Wood Nature Reserve that was carved in 1943 by some of the American Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
My thanks to
The Secret of Sherwood Forest Oil production in England during World war II
by GUY WOODWARD and GRACE STEELE WOODWARD, ISBN 0-8061-3433-X