Editor’s note: This is the third and final part of a three-part series about the role area roughnecks played in helping defeat the Nazis and winning World War ll. Click here for a link to part one. Click here for part two.
The ancient pines of Sherwood Forest have witnessed many tales.
Back when wars were fought with swords, arrows and trebuchets, the legendary folk hero Robin Hood, whether he be a real historical figure or a vigilante personification of ideals, was born in the forest located in Nottinghamshire, England.
He took from the rich and gave to the poor. But in 1943, American oilmen known as the Oil Patch Warriors lived their own legendary story of sacrifice for those in need.
In the thralls of World War II, these roughnecks left the safety of American soil for war-torn England. They arrived in cowboy boots and hats, fighting Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine in the best way they knew how, drilling, rigging, and pumping.
With imports being suffocated by German U-boats — dropping oil tankers and supply ships to the bottom of the Atlantic — Britain was in crisis.
The proud nation needed oil to sustain the fight. The roughnecks, primarily from Oklahoma and Texas, gave them just that.
When the 44 Americans arrived, the oil field was churning out just 300 barrels of oil per day. Once these oil men from Noble Oil and Fain-Porter got to work, the field began to produce 3,000 barrels daily.
The legend of the Warriors hasn’t received the attention that Robin Hood has over the past five or so centuries.
Before this year, Dewayne Bragg, a 70-year-old former home builder who spends most of his retirement in Arkansas as a metal ‘detectorist’ didn’t know a thing about the Oil Patch Warriors.
But that changed with just one dollar, or to be more accurate, a £1 note.
In 2017, Bragg’s friend and fellow detectorist Reggie Cusick, manager at Dallas Rare Coins, came across a pair of one-pound notes from London.
“I picked the one that was old and crinkly,” Bragg said.
Bragg discovered 33 names written on the note. And out of curiosity started Googling.
Eventually, he got a hit. An oilman man named E.H. "Spanky" Hemphill took him down a rabbit hole, a trip he’d never forget.
“What I had in my hand was not a copy. I realized I had history in my hands,” Bragg said. “I traveled through time, it’s the closest thing I can relate to it. I found a note and I got to travel into the lives of these men, feel something they felt and held.
“Few people knew about their secret mission at the time, few people know about it now,” Bragg added. “The Oil Patch Warriors - it’s an important story that history shouldn’t forget.”
Eventually, Bragg bought the “Secret of Sherwood Forest.”
The book detailing the work of Oil Patch Warriors mentions that on the final days of the harrowing endeavor, the roughnecks signed a one-pound note.
Bragg, out of chance, had already planned a trip with Cusick to England. Instead of time traveling this time, Bragg and Cusick took the more traditional route to the lives of the Oil Patch Warriors, booking a flight
“It was fate, really,” Bragg said.
On the trip, Bragg traced the footsteps of the Oil Patch Warriors and returned the one pound artifact bearing the names of the 33 men to its place of origin, donating the hand-written piece of history back to the Duke's Wood Oil Museum.
The journey and the thrill of discovering the note brought him more joy than anything he could get for it at an auction, Bragg said.
Besides, he said after what the roughnecks from the Sherwood Forest did and sacrificed, it was the least he could do.
“If Britain ran out of fuel and surrendered, history might have played out a lot differently,” Bragg said.“I wouldn't want to live in that reality. Some people say these men saved Britain, and I don’t disagree. At the least, what these roughnecks did was shorten the war.”
The global conflict claimed 70 million lives, not including those who died of sickness. Four percent of the world’s population, 32,000 people per day, primarily young men – gone.
Bragg, whose father served in WWII said the Rough Patch Warriors’ role in the war and saving Britain from surrender to the Nazi’s was crucial.
“These men and the oil they produced saved lives, that’s a fact,” Bragg said. “Not all wars are fought and won with bullets and bombs. They used to say wars are won through the bellies of the soldiers. Well in World War II, it was filling the bellies of tanks and fighter planes.”
The oil produced by American roughnecks from 1943-44 yielded a particularly high-octane fuel which proved especially helpful for Britain's fleet of warplanes and tanks, said former Noble Corporation CEO Jim Day.
On his visit, Bragg got to meet the museum’s curators, who were thrilled to see the artifact return to its home in Kelham Hall. Bragg said he'll be returning to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest again in September.
“To this day, the nodding donkeys (what the English called the pump jacks) are still pumping,” Bragg said. “It’s a special place. It’s where normal kids became heroes.”
He also said he might even take a trip from his home in Arkansas to visit the monument in Ardmore as well as see what else he could find with his metal detector."Few people knew about the secret mission at the time and few people know about it now," Bragg said. “It’s important to remember and reflect on history and how we got here. People of Oklahoma, from Ardmore and really anyone should take a lot of pride in these roughnecks.” Click here for a link to part one. Click here for part two.