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RAF East Kirkby opened on the 20th August 1943 as a Bomber command Station.
The station closed in 1958 and is now home to an air museum whose prize exhbit is the Lancaster Bomber "Just Jane". The aircraft was purchased by the Panton brothers from a museum in Blackpool where it had been a static exhibit. Now fully restored, in memory of their brother who was killed on a Bomber Command mission, the Lancaster has been given a taxi licence and frequently makes runs for visitors. The museum website can be visited here:
After the end of hostilities, East Kirby was home to 460 sqd. RAAF, (previously at RAF Binbrook) until October, 1945.
Squadrons stationed at East Kirkby
The Wartime Memories Project would like to hear from anyone who was stationed at East Kirkby during the war years, or anyone who lived nearby. We would love to hear your recollections of life on the base and the surrounding area.
Please contact us:
2803 Allied airmen were helped to escape or evade capture via the help of resistance groups,including the Comete Line. Amongst the last group of five to cross the Pryrenees into Spain was my father, P/O Len Barnes RAF of 630 Squadron. This is his story.
Lancaster bombers of 630 Squadron, number 5 group were being prepared for a mission to Germany. The date was 15th March. (The ides of March had not been a lucky day for Julius Caesar and were to prove equally unlucky for Len) One of the pilots awaiting information about the nights target was Len Barnes, who had recently celebrated his 24th birthday. That nights target was to be Stuttgart. For Len the flight preparation was off to a bad start. When he prepared himself in the cockpit ready for the flight he put the little teddy bear ,which his fiancee,Merville, had given him ,on the compass. Perhaps it would bring him luck. But as soon as he started the engines the little bear fell to the floor because of the vibration. Len felt that this was a bad omen. Unbeknowns to Len, back in London,Merville had had a similar experience the morning of 17th March. She had pinned the RAF wings brooch that he had given to her on her lapel. As she bent forward the brooch fell to the ground. The clasp was still done up!! Merville wondered too if this was a bad omen..
Shortly after 18:00 Lancaster LE-P ND530 took off from East Kirkby. Along with the many other bombers (around 900) they made their way to Stuttgart. Bomb aimer Gregg took over the command from Len. Stealthily he took them to their target. Although the Germans had tried to obscure the target by using artificial mist this had not proved to be a defence against the British bombers. .After dropping their bombs on the target Len pulled Peter sharply away from the city. A relieved crew of 7 started their journey back to East Kirkby. They were not to know that a Junkers 88 was spying on them. As the night fighter opened fire a shudder went through the Lancaster . which caught fire almost immediately. Inside the Lanc was a state of true carnage. The mid upper gunner(Sgt James Overholt RCAF) was by now lying on the rest bed, his oxygen supply to the turret having been cut off . The hydraulics had been destroyed and the plane was now a ‘sitting duck’.The fighter attacked for a second time from behind. Sgt Thomas Fox ,cooped up in the rear gun turret died in a hail of shrapnel. As the plane was attacked again from underneath Sgt Overholt was killed.
The situation was hopeless, both starboard engines were ablaze, and Len gave the order to bail out. Gregg,(front gunner/bomb aimer) Plowman(wireless operator),Walker(engineer) and Geisler( navigator) jumped one after the other from P for Peter,facing an uncertain future. Only Len Barnes stayed behind in the burning wreck..
Ensuring that his crew had left the aircraft, Len prepared to make his own escape. However the plane lurched to one side and he missed the escape hatch, knocking himself out in the process. The next thing he remembered was falling through the air with an unopened parachute,his scarf tapping him gently on his cheek. He pulled his rip cord and floated to the ground., landing in a farmers field obscured by a small wood. He found himself close to Dravegny in the department of Aisne.After landing, Len buried his parachute. One of his eyes was very swollen .He lit a cigarette and began his journey to freedom. Len buried his parachute ,Mae West and the tops of his flying boots. He set off in a South Westerly direction and after about a mile found another parachute hanging in a tree. ( This he discovered later belonged to Sgt Ken Walker who also evaded capture) Len dragged it clear and buried it.but forgot to look for the name on the ‘chute.
A short while later he arrived in the village of Arcis le Ponsard. He bathed his swollen eye in the drinking trough but made a hasty getaway as a dog started barking. Len continued across the fields to Cohan and came to a farm. He watched the farmer cross the yard and go into the house, and then slipped into the barn and hid under the hay.It was about 5:30A.M.
A few hours later, after some rest, he crept out to look at his maps. As he was doing this he realised he was being watched. He declared himself to the farmer and asked for help.The farmer indicated to Len to stay there and returned a short while later with some bread and wine and a cloth to bath the pilot’s eye. Later in the afternoon Len was visited by a young girl who spoke English. She questioned him closely to ensure that he was not a German infiltrator as had happened before. She asked him to wait for signals and under no circumstances was he to leave his hiding place. As it grew dark Len was approached by a middle aged Frenchman. He kitted Len out with an overcoat, beret and ….a bottle of whisky. The man ( an ex – French army captain) escorted Len to what was to be his next hiding place, Ferme le Reraye, home of Pierre Martin. Len stayed here for a further 10 days, on a diet of red wine and french bread. Whilst here he was taken back to see the remains of P-Peter. One can only imagine his emotions at seeing the burnt out wreck.. The two gunners who had lost their lives had been buried in the churchyard at St Gilles. The villagers had stolen the bodies from the Germans in order to give the airmen a decent burial under cover of darkness at midnight.
Len had been kept close to the crash site in the hope that the enemy would widen their search but there was news that they were recovering their search ground. It was time to move on. Late in the evening of the 25th of March Len was escorted to the village cemetary at Nesles . Here he was left to hide amongst the grave stones in the dark for hours until further contact was made.
Around midnight he heard a noise, followed by a voice whispering “Tommy,tommy” . “Here” he answered. From out of the darkness a few men appeared,armed with Stenguns.These men were members of the Maquis, led by ‘Grand Leon Coigne’.Leon indicated to Len to follow them. The youngest of his escorts was probably about 15 years old.Whilst walking in silence down the small country lane, the men in front suddenly dived into a ditch. The rest,including Len followed suit and stayed there waiting silently until a small German patrol had passed by.To attack would have been too risky and if a German had been shot the Boche would not have hesitated to shoot a few villagers in revenge.So they waited until the danger had passed and continued walking to Fere-en Tardenois where Leon lived.
On the bank of the river Orque, which flowed through Fere-en- Tardenois, was a house named La Cabane. This was the home of Leon and Madeleine (Mimi) Coigne. Here they lived with their daughter Christiane (14yrs) and their son Jean (11yrs) At the otbreak of war Leon was a sailor with the french marines. He was taken prisoner with his mates and escaped twice ,returning home to his old job as a plumber at the factory next to his home.Every thing seemed as it was before. But at night Leon was a different person. As a member of the Maquis he led his 10 man strong Base Organisation Aereinne through the fields and waited for British aircraft to drop weapons and explosives. These were then used to execute sabotage actions, blowing up railways bridges and telephone poles. After these nocturnal excursions Leon would return home as if nothing had happened..
Only a trusted few knew of his nocturnal existence, that he was in communication with London with a secret radio hidden in the next village of Arcy- Saint –Restitue. Initially Leon had little trust in the young man in his care. He had had a bad experience whilst sheltering two Americans previously. He confessed years later that if Len had done something he didn’t like he would have had no hesitation in killing him and throwing his body into the fast flowing river Orque.
Pilot Officer Barnes was a totally different person. He was sheltered by the Coigne family for six weeks. During this time he had few demands,spending most of his day sitting in a chair in the corner of the room where he could not be seen by the outside world.He helped in the household and kept the houserules of the Coigne family. He was even taken for a trip to the village barbers under cover of darkness. At one point it seemed as if his whereabouts had been given away, albeit unintentionally by the Coigne’s 11 year old son, Jean. As young boys do, Jean boasted to a friend that he could now speak English. His friend said “Go on then.” To which Jean replied “Yes” and “No”!!!Fortunately his friend took the matter no further. Christiane also played her own part in the workings of the resistance. At the age of 14 she would cycle through the village carrying messages tucked into her socks.
As far as Leon was concerned the unassuming Englishman could stay for as long as necessary but in the night of 8/9th May 1944 Len Barnes stay at La Cabane ended.Leon was going on a sabotage mission with the Maquis. Len offered to go with him .Perhaps he could be of some help.Leon refused as every outsider however wellmeaning would be a hinderance. Around midnight Len and Mimi heard the dry explosions of guns and the rattling of machine guns in the distance. They did not know what was happening but when Leon did not return home that night they feared the worst.
The following morning Christine heard what had happened.Leons group had successfully collected the ‘drop’ but had been ambushed by the Germans. Leon had thrown himself to the ground at the first shot and rolled into a ditch making his getaway. Ten others were not so lucky. The majority of them dying in Neuengamme.Leon in the meantime had disappeared. News reached Mimi that her husband was hiding in a disused factory chimney. The Germans had searched the building but had failed to find Leon,who was to remain in the damp chimney for more than a week. Christiane had the risky job of taking food and water to her father. When the commotion had died down Leon left Fere-en Tardenois and continued his resistance work with another group.
Len Barnes could not stay at La Cabane any longer,it was too risky.Before leaving Mimi,Christiane and Jean,Len wrote his name and address on a piece of paper and gave Christiane his distress whistle. Both of these items were placed in a jar and buried in the garden. A new hiding place was found for Len in the village, in the mansion of the rich Les Guillier family. Mme Pinard, a member of the resistance,had the difficult task of approaching the Coigne family and taking ‘their’Englishman away. She led him through the village to a large mansion,which hidden in the woods and down a long track was occupied by Mme Les Guillier. Already staying at Chalet des Bruyeres was another British airmen,a Scotsman by the name of Bill Jacks.Mme Les Guillier began to find it very stressful,looking after two fleeing pilots in the house.Mme Pinard consoled her saying”Cherie,if you get shot for one pilot, just one more doesn’t make any difference!!”.
Jacks and Len were to remain at the Chalet des Bruyeres for just over a week. They then found that they were to be moved onto Paris. The journey to Paris went without any major problems apart from the fact that Bill only just escaped capture. On the train he bumped into a German guard. Without thinking he said “So sorry, Old Chum” Barnes heard this with baited breath. Fortunately the guard did not realise he had just heard English being spoken and snarled at them to be more careful.At about 11P.M. the two airmen arrived at the Gare de l’Est in Paris. The guide from Fere-en Tardenois had disappeared and they were now in the hands of another guide who took them to a house near the Trocadero, possibly the home of a French doctor. After two days Jacks was moved on. He left behind his gold cufflinks which had been a twenty first birthday present from his mother. Len picked up the cufflinks intending to return them to Bill further down the line. (He wore them to every reunion in the hope of meeting him again after the war as he knew that Bill had returned safely.At the time of my own twentyfirst birthday I wrote to the BBC programme ‘Hotline’ and they were able to reunite Bill and my father albeit on the phone as Bill had emigrated to Australia!As luck would have it one of my work colleagues was due to visit relatives in Perth and was able to deliver the cufflinks to their rightful owner 40 years later!)
After Bill left , Len was transferred to another apartment. This address was 1 bis,Rue Vanneau and belonged to Virginia and Phillipe d’Albert-Lake..Here Len was to meet a further twenty or so allied airmen, Including the four others who were to accompany him on the remainder of his journey. Virginia was American and had married Phillipe in the 1930s. She was to be later caught by the Germans and spend the rest of the war in Ravensbruck. Phillipe managed to escape not knowing if his wife was dead or alive until they were reunited after the war.
It was impossible to keep the airmen cooped up indefinately so they were permitted to go out in pairs if it was felt safe enough. Not knowing the ‘occupiers’ rules Len unwittingly walked underneath the Eiffel Tower happily taking in the sights. He was approached agressively by a German soldier wielding a bayonet and sent on his way.
Len’s ‘escape comrades’ were Sgt Ronald ‘Curly’ Emeny RAF,Lieutenant Colonel Thomas ‘Speedy’ Hubbard, Major Donald Willis and Lieutenant Jack Cornett, the last three being American.Their journey to cross the border,though successful had its own dangers. Whilst on the train from Paris to Biarritz Len was approached by a German officer as they stood in the corridor. Fortunately Len realised that the soldier wanted a light for his cigarette so he obliged without having to say a word..
As they crossed the Pyrenees at the time of the D-Day landings one would think that they could have breathed a sigh of relief when they knew that they were in Spain but this was not so. They still remained very close to the Spanish/French border and Len was not happy that they had been following the river upstream instead of towards the coast. Something was not right! The mother of the children in the house was in heated discussion with them .Jack Cornett, who in his past had smuggled contraband across the Mexican border, was able to understand the Spanish being spoken. The children were being told not to tell the airmen where they were or to let them leave. That was it. Len decided it was time to go. He told the others of his descision. To Sgt Emeny he said he would not order him to go with him . Like the others he must make up his own mind. So Len left,….and the others follwed suite to the frantic cries of the Basque woman and the children . This was to prove to have been a wise choice. They later discovered that they were due to have been handed back to the Germans…The reward?? A sack of corn for each airman!!! The five of them walked firther into Spain,to safer territory. Len remembered waking up after a rest in the sun to the sight of a gun barrel as they were ‘arrested’ by Spanish police. They were transferred to the care of the British Consul and Len was flown back to England from Gibralter on 20th /03 1944.
In October 45 Len and Merville were married and he returned to his job as a printer for Glyn Mills & co bank having disbanded 630 Squadron as adjutant. He became a founder member of the RAF Escaping Society, but still wondered about those incredibly brave people who had aided him in his escape.
Twenty three years to the day (i.e. 15/03/1967) that ND530 was shot down Len receved a letter in the post .The letter showed a French postmark and as Len did not know anybody in France ,this intrigued him.He could not have prepared himself for what he was about to discover. The family with whom he had stayed at Fere- en –Tardenois,La famille Coigne, had dug up the jam jar in the garden and tried to make contact with Len. However unbeknowns to them.two weeks after returning to England the family home in Upper North St Poplar had been bombed out and the Barnes family had moved. Undeterred the Coignes had tracked ‘their Englishman’ down through a French programme called ‘Rendezvous des Souvenirs’. This letter was for an invitation for my parents to got to France and for Len to be reunited with the Coigne family.
Whilst wating in a small French restaurant in the town of Fere- en Tardenois my father kept saying to my Mum. “They’ve got the wrong bloke Merv. I don’t recognise any of it!!” But of course He had only ever seen it in darkness,just going out on one occasion to the barbers. His fears were dispelled as he walked down the long track towards La Cabane, accompanied by Marina Gray, a French television presenter. The curtains twitched and then Leon and Mimi appeared.There are no words to describe the emotions felt that day.!!Just imagine it and then multiply it tenfold!!After the television crews had disappeared Len and the Coignes began the rekindling of the already strong bond between them. Len was taken to the crash site and spoke to eye witnesses of the crash. They told of how they could hear the plane struggling and the flames reaching double the length of the body of the aircraft. And then the explosion. This explained how Len had been blown clear, to fall through the air. At this point one villager shot into her house and took a knife to a cushion. As she ripped off the cover she handed the contents to my father….his pilots seat! In deed the villagers had used what they could from the plane,making sure that anything that would be helpful to the Germans had ‘disappeared!’
One such person was the village grave digger who used the propeller blades to sharpen his lawnmower. He was adamant that he had buried the pilot and it turned out that one of the crew had been wrongly identified as P’O Len Barnes. It transpired that the three members of the crew who had been captured identified Jim Overholts body as that of my father by virtue of his boots. Len wore a particular type of flying boot that could be cut down to look like civilian shoes should the need arise. He was the only member of the crew to wear them. However it was later discovered that Jim had been to the stores that morning and had been issued with an identical pair of boots. Both Jim Overholt and Thomas ‘Freddy’ Fox are buried in the village cemetary at St Gilles. They are cared for beautifully by the villagers even sixty years on.
The bond that exists between our two families is unbreakable and my own daughter is named Madeleine after Mme Coigne. We took our son and daughter to Fere for a holiday last year. Although my father died in 1988 I know he would be so proud that the friend ship started over sixty years ago continues. And through this research I have made contact with Sgt Malcolm Gregg’s son. And so a new friendship begins.
My father, Sergeant Cyril Bayford, rear gunner, was with 57th Squadron during WW2. His last mission was November 11th 1944, I believe the mission was Hamburg. The Lancaster was shot down near Harburg and he is now buried at Hamburg cemetary.
I would welcome any information, I know so little about him as I was just one month old when he died. My sister and I did finally get to visit his grave a few years ago and we would really like to get more information on him and the rest of the squadron that was serving with him at that time. It would appear from the graves that there may have been one or two that escaped the aircraft and would like to find out more about what happened.
My Dad, Frederick Cole, recently recorded his World War II memories. He was a Lancaster Bomb Aimer in 57 Squadron, group 5, based at East Kirkby and flew on 33 missions between May - October 1944, one Lancaster was written off but have the number of other, DX-M LM626, nicknamed 'Mike'. I believe from the records I have that that Lancaster was reported missing on 12th December 1944. Dad will be attending the reunion on July 2nd/3rd and meeting for the first time in 61 years the pilot Phil Ainley (and Mum and Dad's best man at their wedding 10th April 1944) and Bruce McTrowe, the son of the Mid Upper Gunner, Arnold McTrowe from Canada. It has been quite a humbling adventure trying to tally Dad's story with the RAF war dairies and with the help of his log book have been able to identify 17 of his missions.
One member of the crew I have been unable to account for was the rear gunner Doug Salisbury who, in Dad's words, came from up North somewhere - I don't suppose you would have any idea as to what happened to him?
Extracts taken from Fred Cole's Wartime Memories, Bomber Command, East Kirkby, 57 Squadron, May - October 1944
"We are finally posted to the 57th Squadron at East Kirkby. This was on the 15th May 1944. Initially we did a variety of further training with the squadron and made our first bombing run on the 24th May to Antwerp. It was not too bad an experience. In those areas the density of the gunnery from the ground was always intense but for us it was our first insight as to what the war was all about. Three days later we were sent on our second mission to St. Valerie in Northern France, a time when flying bombs were becoming major threat. On the 1st June 1944 we were involved in a moonlight mission flying down to the South of Paris to bomb a bridge at Saumur. We were not flying at a particularly high level as we approached the target area. The night sky was beautiful and the target quite clear. As we started on the bombing run there were suddenly 'tracers' going all around from attacking enemy aircraft. I was down in the Bomb bay that provided forward vision only (i.e. not sideways or below). We kept going despite several continued fighter attacks until we were in fact over the target. Like I said it was clear as a 'bell' and you could see exactly what was going on. We beat a hasty exit as quickly as we could, 'corkscrewing' nearly all the way home. 'Corkscrewing' is a flying tactic where you flew like a corkscrew through the sky to make it more difficult for any fighter aircraft that might be following to beam on to you and fire.
All was fine until we got back to the airfield and got out. What a shock awaited us! Across the fuselage and under the middle of the aircraft were some twenty-nine holes and after inspection the aircraft itself was written off. We were damned lucky".
"One of the most significant missions I flew on was during the middle of August when we were called upon as a squadron to do some special low-level gardening, (that is dropping mines.) This was in a channel between Danzig 'as was' and Stettin. Now at the same time a large raid was taking place at Stettin that could be seen in the distance from my position with everything going off. We were on our own and came in the back way so to speak. The marker had been 'plonked' right on the little island that we used as a start for our run-in. We hadn't gone very far when a voice came over the intercom saying, "This is Wing Commander Porter, we've been hit, we're going in" or some words to that effect. That was very unnerving. Anyway, I placed my parachute under my belly as we were descending; we were going down to two hundred and fifty feet. The target was a waterway that, at that level, was illuminated with lights that you could see on the approach but couldn't see if you were directly overhead. There were three 'eggs' to be dropped and I recall that we had to count to five between each 'egg' drop. These bombs were special, some were timed to explode as the first vessel went over them, some after the second or third and so on.
"Battle stations had started and we found the channel; all hell was let loose with 'tracers' left, right and centre that fortunately seemed to be going too high above us to make a target as we were underneath them. Somehow we managed to get through it and every member of the crew was shouting to each other, "Come on Mike, you can do it!" We shot up into the night sky like a rocket, up and away. That was quite a thrilling experience for us and thankfully we had a safe journey back home. This was the occasion when Phil the pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross".
"One time we were sent on a daylight bombing mission over Belgium, the target was a large airfield and I remember that as we approached there was formidable attack fire with shells exploding all around us. We were flying not too far behind another Lancaster, the crew of which I knew very well - all of a sudden they just disappeared. A shell had caught the bomb load and the only evidence we had were bits and pieces in the leading edge of our wings. On the same raid I witnessed a bomb go straight through the wing of another Lancaster but it just kept on flying."
East Kirkby today.
East Kirkby Control Tower.
If you have any Photographs you would like to share please get in touch.
List of those who served here.
- Phil Ainley. pilot. 57 Sqd.
- F/S S C Alldis. 57 sqd. Read his Story
- Sgt C Batford57 sqd. (d. 11 Nov 1944) Read his Story
- P/O Leonard Alfred Barnes. pilot. 630 Sqd Read his story
- Sergeant Cyril Bayford. rear gunner. 57 Sqd. Read his story
- P Beck. 57 Sqd.
- P Black. 57 Sqd.
- P/O Denis A Brammer.Pilot 630 sqd RAF(d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- F/O S Bowden. 57 sqd. (d. 11 Nov 1944) Read his Story
- Sgt A C Brett. 57 sqd. (d. 11 Nov 1944) Read his Story
- S Burton. 57 Sqd.
- Frederick Cole. bomb aimer. 57 Sqd. Read his story
- Sgt Leonard G Cook. F Eng 630 sqd RAF(d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- W/O Gerald J Davis. Nav/Bomber 630 sqd RAF (d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- W/C W.I.Deas DSO DFC & Bar 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944)
- Sgt Clifford J Evans. Air Gunner 630 sqd RAF(d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- F/L G.G.H.Farara DFC DFM. pilot 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944)
- Sgt John C Fitzpatrick. Air Gunner 630 sqd RAFVR (d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- Sgt Thomas A."Freddy" Fox. rear gunner(d. 15 Mar 1944)630 Sqd Read his story
- F/O M.Geisler. nav. 630 Sqd Read his story
- Sgt Malcolm Elliot Gregg. bomb aimer. 630 Sqd Read his story
- F/S F C Green. 57 sqd. (d. 11 Nov 1944) Read his Story
- Eric C. Harris. DFC. RNZAF. 630 Sqd.
- J Harvey. 57 Sqd.
- Sgt Dennis G Holyoak. W Opp/Air Gunner 630 sqd RAF(d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- I Jackson. 57 Sqd.
- Wing Commander Frank Lawrence, D.F.C., D.F.M 460 sqd
- F/S R.J.Locke 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944)
- Sgt J A McLaughlin. 57 sqd. (d. 11 Nov 1944) Read his Story
- Arnold McTrowe. mid upper gnr. 57 Sqd.
- Flt Sgt Ray Miller. flt eng.
- Sgt L W Nagley. 57 sqd. Read his Story
- Sgt James H.Overholt. midupper gunner RCAF (d. 15 Mar 1944) 630 Sqd Read his story
- Sgt L.A.A.Page 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944)
- Sgt G.E.Plowman. w/op 630 Sqd Read his story
- E J Raffill. 57 Sqd.
- J D Rennie. 57 Sqd.
- Doug Salisbury. rear gnr. 57 sqd.
- A Sims. 57 Sqd.
- Squadron Commander Wing Commander Swann, D.S.O., D.F.C. 460 sqd
- D Taylor. 57 Sqd.
- F/O J.T.Taylor DFC 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944) Read his story
- F.J.Turner. W/Op. 630 Sqd.
- F/O W.T.Upton 630 sqd.
- Jack Vesey. pilot.
- Sgt K.A.Walker. flt eng 630 Sqd Read his story
- Edwin Watson. flt eng. 630 Sqd
- Hugh Welland. 57 Sqd.Read his story
- Sgt William A White. Nav/Bomber 630 sqd RAF(d. 18th Oct 1944) Read his story
- J Wogan. 57 Sqd.
- P/O C.N.Wright 630 sqd. (d. 8 Jul 1944)
If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.
If you have a story which you would like to share, or a website dedicated to an airfield or aircrew, please get in touch.
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