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Memories of American oil workers

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Recent interest in the former Duke’s Wood oil works has prompted one ex-worker to recall caring for Amercians who helped at the site during the second world war.

Mr Wally Soles (89) of Kings Court, Southwell, worked in the communications department at the site in Eakring from 1942 to 1966.

The site, said to be one of Winston Churchill’s best-kept war-time secrets, is now a museum looked after by Mr Kevin Topham, of Mansfield Road, Edingley.

Mr Soles was responsible for taking care of the 44 American oil workers, sent by the Noble Corporation, Oklahoma, in February 1943 to help drill for oil. They lived at Kelham Hall, which was a monastery at the time.

Mr Soles said: “Mr Gene Rosser, who led the American workers, arrived and he was told that anything he needed he should come to me and I would help him.

“When I first saw him he walked on to the site wearing a stetson and a tartan jacket, with high-heeled boots.”

Mr Soles said the Americans brought heavy-duty equipment that allowed them to drill for oil quickly and efficiently.

He said: “They brought with them a large six-wheeled lorry called Ole Lo-go, which was so big they had to get special permission before they could drive it on the road.”

Mr Soles said one of his happiest memories of the Americans was when he took them to Newark to buy bicycles.

He said: “They used to cycle around and mix with the locals, and they got quite friendly with some of their neighbours in Kelham.

“They used to go across to The Fox pub in Kelham, and I took them into Nottingham and showed them the Black Boy Hotel and Palais De Dance, where they used to go in the evenings whenever they could.”

Mr Soles said it was a shock for the American workers to come to Britain in war-time when food was strictly rationed.

He said: “The rationing wasn’t very good and Mr Rosser had to go to London to see if he could get extra food for his men.

“He had a bit of a struggle to do it but he succeeded in getting them extra rations, which they were entitled to because of the work they were doing.”

Mr Soles said the English and American workers were particularly saddened by the death of one of the American workers, Mr Herman Douthit, in November 1943, when he fell from one of the oil rigs.

The Americans left in March 1944 having drilled 106 holes across Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, 94 of which had produced oil.

By 1966 many of the land-based oil works in Britain had shut and drilling had moved to rigs in the North Sea.

Mr Soles decided he did not want to work on the rigs and took a job working for the electricity board in Nottingham.

In 1969 an American author, Grace Steel Woodward, came to England to research a book about the Americans’ involvement with drilling for oil in Duke’s Wood entitled Secrets Of Sherwood Forest.

Mr Soles helped her with her research by taking her to sites where the Americans drilled.

He also introduced her to people who had had contact with them.

As reported in last week’s Advertiser, Mr Topham has just returned from Amercia, where he spoke in Texas about the importance of the Amercian oil workers.

Mr Soles said he was disappointed that none of the Eakring drilling staff had visited America to talk about their experiences.

The last time he saw any of the American oil workers was in May 1991, when there was a reunion for those who had worked at Duke’s Wood during the war.

A statue called the Oil Patch Worker was unveiled by the energy minister at the time, Mr John Wakeham. Mr Gene Rosser died in January 1992.

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