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Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - On this day...... 3rd February 1917

 

Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War

On the centenary of their death, we remember

Henry William FEAKINS (of Luddenham)
b. Q3, 1893 (bapt. 3rd November);
d. 3rd February 1917. Aged 22/23 years.


Private, F/2829
"D" Company, 23rd
Battalion,
Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment
Remembered with Honour
Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen
Plot 1, Row M, Grave 50
(Headstone No. 621)
Killed in Action

Dickebusch New Military Cemetery


William Feakins was one of ten children born to Emma and William Henry, Farm Labourer of Littlebourne near Canterbury in 1911. Two brothers died in early infancy: Thomas, after 1 month and George, after 4 months. According to the Family list given by his mother (19th May 1919), William had four surviving sisters, Mrs "L.E. Leonard", Ada Jane, Alice Maude and Minnie, and three surviving brothers John Richard, Albert James and James Henry J. The family home during and after the war was Fouroaks, Luddenham, near Faversham. Christened "Henry William" he answered to "William" in the records.

Like his father and grandfather, William was an agricultural labourer, but unlike his father's generation in Charing Heath, William's employment took him around North Kent to Hothfield, Westwell, Eastling, St. Nicholas, Ulcombe, Rainham, Charing and Littlebourne before settling at Four Oaks, Luddenham. We know from the delivery of William's medals that in 1919 his mother (sole legatee) continued to live in Four Oaks, Luddenham.

While the 1911 Census described William as a farm labourer. His military records (1916) narrow this description to "horseman". His records give a sketch of the man: at age 22 years, he stood at 5 feet 6¾ inches. Chest measurement 36½ inches with 3 inches expansion. Eyesight was assessed as good. Physical development was "good", fit for Class I General Service. Vaccination marks on both arms from infancy and reinforced on 27th April, 30th May, and 16th June 1916.

Only one incident of note is given in his record. At Aldershot, "When on Active Service overstaying his leave from 9th July 1916 until 11pm, 10th July 1916. Punishment of "5 days Confined to Barracks ("jankers"). This was settled by "Forfeit of 2 days pay by Royal Warrant."

Personal Records

William first attested on 21st February 1916 for the duration of the War at Faversham, witnessed by "Corporal P. Mannooch". He was passed "fit" for General Service to the Army Reserve and mobilised on 18th April 1916 when he was posted to the 27th (Reserve) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. In May 1916, this Battalion moved to Aldershot. On 1st September, this Battalion converted into the 101st and 102nd Training Reserve Battalions of the 23rd Reserve Brigade at Aldershot. But before this happened, on 26th August 1916, William was posted to the British Expeditionary Force, 41st Brigade, and embarked on 27th August 1916 as part of the 23rd Middlesex Regiment. The 23rd Battalion had first landed in France in May 1916. He remained in this Battalion until he died from wounds received ("killed in action in the field") received on 3rd February 1917. His reckonable service being: 130 days at Home and 162 days in the British Expeditionary Force - 292 days in all.

His mother paid for the inscription on his cross that reads "Rest in Peace, They will be done". He was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

Military Experience in WW1

On 27th August 1916, William Feakins embarked for France in "D" Company of 23rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment. From the Battalion Diary, it looks likely that he joined his unit on 1st September. By this date, his Unit had been active in LE TOUQUET Trenches with billets in ARMENTIERES as it shared duties with the Durham Light Infantry (DLI).

From 2nd to 12th August, the 23rd Middlesex Regiment was in billets (Armentières) before returning to Trenches on 13th August. They relieved the 20th DLI and were flanked by 11th Queens on their left and New Zealand Infantry Brigade on their right. They also received orders relating to relief of the 123rd Infantry Brigade of which they were a part.

So, on 18th August, the Middlesex was relieved by 13th DLI and marched to Billets at STEENWERCK. Paraded to march to PHINBOON. The next day, "Route march and Company Training. 2nd Lieut. SHEPHERD to R.F.A., struck off strength. O.R. evacuated sick, four. There was Company Training until 22nd August, after which the Regiment marched from PHINBOON to LONGPRE, detrained here and marched to GORENFLOS (about 9 miles) arriving at 7.45 pm. There followed 8 days of Company Training that included a rehearsal Battalion attack on three lines of Enemy Trenches.

The Battalion Diary is not very detailed or informative. We have recorded entries for William's first experience of attacking German positions, but this Diary is not helpful in telling us what the objective is, so more digging was needed to get a sense of what was going on around William's Battalion.
1st September: GORENFLOS: Following officers joined, 2nd Lieuts J.G. Rodwell, S. Wales Smith, S.F. Rogers. Reinforcement Draft of 66 Other Ranks. A further 5 Other Ranks joined the unit on the 2nd September. It is worth speculating that William arrived at the Front at this time.
4th September: 4.30pm: Inspection by G.O.C. 41st Division (3.30pm -- 5pm).
5th September: 10.20am: Transport moved off.
6th September: 10.30am: GORENFLOS-MEAULTE: Battalion marched to LONGPRE. Train left for MERICOURT, 5.25pm, arrived 8pm. Reached bivouacs at MEAULTE 11.45pm.
There followed some movement of personnel - sick, reinforcements, and home leave until the Battalion returned to Trenches in DELVILLE WOOD on 10th September, William's first experience of being under fire.
The Battalion was employed in sapping under constant shell-fire until relieved and returning to billets at MONTAUBAN.
14th September: 11pm: Battalion left MONTAUBAN via MILK LANE for CARLTON and SAVOY TRENCHES (Assembly). There followed William's first experience of attacking German positions in what was a major engagement according to the Diary of the 41st Division, whose HQ was at BELLEVUE FARM.

41st Division Diary Summary - 15th September

Formations: 122nd, 123rd, 124th Infantry Brigades; New Zealand Divisions (2nd Aukland & 3rd N.Z. Battalions).

14th: All tanks in position. Situation normal. 13th Noon to 14th noon: Casualties: O.R.: Killed, 8; Wounded, 47; Missing,1.
3 p.m. - Zero Confirmed for 15th September.

15th: 7.30am: Tanks over crest and out of sight of HQ. Aeroplane spotters used to report forward movement of tanks. 7.45 a.m.: 65 prisoners taken. 1st Objective (SWITCH TRENCH) taken and consolidated. 9.12 a.m.: One tank out of action. 9.30 a.m.: Troops (10th Royal West Kents) and tanks go through FLERS. 9.40 am: 123rd Brigade ordered to send one of their leading Battalions to occupy our late front line East and West of the LONGUEVAL - FLERS Road, and close up remaining Battalions from MONTAUBAN ALLEY accordingly. 9.47 a.m.: German heavy artillery open up concentrated fire. 10.41 a.m.: 3 tanks stuck at SWITCH TRENCH. 11.31 a.m.: "Pigeon message from Divisional Observation Officer, timed 10.25 a.m., beings - We hold FLERS Village and crest running East from N. end of Village, but attack on Village disorganised. Reinforcements required to advance through and hold N. end of Village." 11.41 a.m.: "Pigeon message from 15th Hants, timed 10.45 a.m. reports FLERS still occupied by enemy. Troops have been driven back a short distance. 11th Royal West Kents are asking for reinforcements." [Retirement from village because of heavy shelling]. 12 noon: Casualties (noon to noon): Officers: wounded, 2. OR: killed, 1; Wounded, 9.
4.37 p.m.: "Orders to all units that no further advance would be made to-day."
11.47 p.m.: Instructions to 123rd Inf. Bde that O.C., Defences, FLERS, is to continue to hold the defences of FLERS, including all posts, until further orders.


15th September: In Action: 1 a.m.: Assembly Complete. 123rd Brigade in reserve of 41st Division.
6.20 a.m.: Zero – attack launched – 124th Brigade on right – 122nd Brigade on left – tanks leading.
10 a.m.: Brigade moved forward – to left of FLERS ROAD on line of our previous position in DELVILLE WOOD avoiding barrages several times.
Midday: Left trenches for German SWITCH TRENCH – heavy shelling. Adjt. Casualty. “B” and “D” on right of FLERS ROAD, “C” and “A” on left. Enemy opened heavy shelling.
3.15 p.m.: Advanced up right of FLERS ROAD and along right of FLERS WOOD.
4.30 pm: “B” and “D” Company leading with C.O., “A” and “C” Companies behind.
5 pm: O.C. “A” Company ordered by Brigadier General Clemison, G.O.C. 124 Brigade that the strong point North of FLERS WOOD, known as “Hogs Back” must be held at all cost. At N.E. corner of FLERS O.C. “A” Company met survivors of attack – about 250 men of various regiments – retiring.
5.30 pm: They were rallied and HOG’S BACK reoccupied with the help of “B” and “D” Companies.
6.45 pm: Ordered by Col. Oakley (O.C. 10th Queens, 124 Brigade) to retire into Line East of FLERS at nightfall as the enemy was coming round the right flank.
7.30 pm: Took 5 prisoners. Retired on to line stated. O.C. “A” Company (in command of Battalion) handed over to Major Beatty (10th Royal West Kents). Held on during night.
16th September: Heavy enfilade shell fire from dawn to midday and then at intervals
6 pm: Reported position to Brigade and asked for instructions and rations. Was ordered by Brigade to retire to SWITCH TRENCH at night.
Casualties: Lt.Col. W.C.C. Ash wounded. Major E. Knapp wounded, Capt. and Adjt H.W.R. Warneford, Capt. A.V. Gayer, Lt. F.W. Brown wounded (Brown died of wounds 16/9/16), 2Lt H. Wilson and 2Lt N.P. Nixon killed, 2Lts H.V. Bent, H.R. Odling, S. Wales Smith, S.F. Rogers, and Lt. H. Farnescombe (RAMC) wounded. Other Ranks: 22 killed, 129 wounded and 32 missing. Lt. J.T. Rearden RAMC attached to battalion.
17th September: 3.15am: Retired to SWITCH TRENCH - which was occupied. Occupied CARLTON TRENCH.
4.45pm: CARLTON TRENCH. Reported to Brigade. G.O.C. ordered me to fall back to GREEN DUMP and reorganise. Did so after having recalled reinforcement of 118 men sent up from transport line.
10 am: GREENDUMP and reorganised. Reported to Brigade.
The Battalion retired to BECORDEL/MEAULTE bivouacs
--- this marked the end of William’s first experience of heavy fighting and the grim realities of action and losses in the trenches.---
October: Change of scenery from dust to deep mud.
9th: Relieved 15th HANTS in Front Line
10th: Artillery duels kick up so much dust that there is a lack of visibility for Stokes Gunners wanting to knock out a nest of snipers.
12th: Relieved back to MAMETZ WOOD.
13th: Entrains for MEAULTE, march and billets DERNANCOURT. Training in trench warfare.
17th/18th: Entrained for OISEMENT, marched to Billets in MERELESSART.
19th/20th: Entrained for GODEWAERSVEALDE; marched to PIEBROUCK – 23 O.R. drafted in.
22nd: March to hutments at ONTARIO CAMP/RENINGHELST.
23rd: Relieved 51st AUSTRALIAN BATTALION in ST. ELOI LINE. 20th D.L.I. on right, 11th Queens on left. “Relief hampered by mud patch at O.29.
24th: “Mud patch becomes worse. Two Stretcher Bearers to be continually on duty at Right of patch. System of Company Observers to replace day sentries adopted. 4 Observers posts per Company to be chosen by O.C. Company. Observers supervised by Sniping officer. Company Observers not to work at night.”
26th: ST. ELOI: “Inter Company relief. “D” Company from Support relieves “B” in front line. Relief held up by mud patch. Enemy opens fire with Rifle Grenades at “B” Company as they wade through mud. Parapet at mud patch completely knocked in and telephone wire broken thus left company isolated.
Relief completed. Casualties O.R. 2 killed, 8 wounded.” Relieving was back to RENINGHELST.

November
3rd: Formed Reserve at DICKEBUSH and VOORNEZEELE Defences.
---- Period of artillery duelling.----
8th: “A day’s rain has filled most trenches with water. Some of the dugouts at VOORMEZEELE are flooded out. Centre battalion H.Q. flooded out by the BOLLAART BEEK. To add to the discomfort, enemy fires 30 lachrymatory shells at the dugout.”
--- Royal Engineers, helped by men from Battalion including “D” Company [“A” and “C” in Front Line] work to shore up the defences and build strong points. More artillery duels. Some gas and sniping. Freeze and thaw makes the “going tough.”

December
--- Same cycle between Front Line and relief [DICKEBUSCH and VERMEZEELE]
6th and 8th: Baths allotted to Battalion.
9th: ST. ELOI, CENTRE BATTALION SUBSECTOR – left of MUD PATCH.
--- Mortar and artillery exchanges.
12th: More rain worsens trenches on the right. R.E. called on to help shore up parapets and trenches to prevent collapse. Steady trickle of sick men being sent back from the Line.
25th: “The men Christmas Day is postponed for the men until we are back in rest. In order to obtain a whole holiday, later work continues today as usual. Men however are provided with better dinner and the Y.M.C.A. at DICKBUSCH supplied food very literally to supplement other supply.”
30th: “Men’s Christmas Day. 6 a side football tournament has to be put off on account of heavy rain. A concert after Christmas dinner followed by Brigade band in the evening.”

1917 Diary Entries leading up to the action in which William is killed.

--- Early January is largely characterised by “business as usual”; the day William dies, the Battalion is in the process of being relieved. One group not being relieved for a period of time – it may be that William was in this group.

January 1917

1st: RENINGHELST. CHIPPEWA CAMP: Distribution of draft to Companies. CHIPPEWA BATHS allotted to Battalion. Company training in gas respirator drill and musketry. Obstacle course started. Battalion concert.
6pm: Wire received that S.O.S. rocket has gone up on Left sector. Warning that Battalion may have to stand to.
6.30pm: Wire received resume normal conditions.
2nd: Brigade Commander visited Companies while training and he desires that in future training should be, wherever possible in the form of tactical schemes in the open particularly regarding the handling of Lewis Guns as covering parties in attack.
12.30pm: Brigade Commander inspects draft and expressed himself very satisfied. Open warfare training during afternoon.
3rd: CENTRE BATTALION H.Q., ST. ELOI: Relieved 18th K.R.R. in Centre Battalion Subsector, Left Sector.
6.50pm: Relief complete.
6pm: Owing to misunderstanding of code message from Brigade, it is thought that enemy raid is expected and front line companies stand-to for 3 hours. A Letter then arrives which makes code message clear. Front Line also reinforced by two Lewis Guns. 1 O.R. evacuated sick.
4th: Our guns very active in the afternoon on the left of Battalion sector. Very little enemy reply. Captain OLLIVER R.E. struck of strength.
5th: Enemy guns active on the right of our sector. 2 Lts FORSTER H.W.B. and FREEMAN G.C. join the battalion. Casualties: 1 O.R. Killed. Reinforcement draft 10 O.R.
6th: 7am: Enemy explodes camouflet [cavern created by underground explosion; no crater] in our subsector at O.2.d.1.8. Damaged part of our mine shaft. No damage to our trenches. Post listening post to watch shaft. 2.30pm. Medium Trench Mortars cut enemy wire on our right. 1 O.R. evacuated sick.
7th: Work on strong points and much wiring continues. Send Working Party to help 20th D.L.I. to mend damaged trench. 2 Lt PORTER takes a Lewis Gun and team on patrol with him and crosses first row of enemy wire near RUINED FARM. Large enemy party dispersed at this point with Lewis Gun.
8th: 9am: Enemy opens on VOORMEZEELY VILLAGE, the part of VOORMEZEELE SWITCH in our subsector and BOLLAART BEEK dug-outs. Garrison of the SWITCH withdrawn to ECLUSE TRENCH without loss. 2 Lt HUTCHINSON A.S. and 1 O.R. wounded in BOLLART BEEK dugouts. This shelling continues until 2.30pm over 600 shells being fired. Dugouts and shelters near BOLLAARTBEEK badly damaged. Comparatively little damage done to VOORMEZEELE SWITCH. Part of relief by 15th HANTS held up during the morning.
7.10pm: Relief by 15th HANTS complete.
9th: RENINGHELST, CHIPPEWA CAMP: Working Parties and cleaning of arms and equipment.
10th: CHIPPEWA CAMP: Every man in 10 platoons fires Lewis Guns on range; every man in 6 platoons throws live bombs. Two companies practice tactical schemes in outposts and advance guards. 1 OR evacuated sick.
11th: Battalion concert. Remainder of Battalion. (6 platoons fire Lewis Gun; six more platoons throw live bombs).
12th: CHIPPEWA BATHS allotted to Battalion. All Companies practice small open warfare schemes.
13th: Supply Working Parties. Staff side under C.O.. Small open warfare problems studies. Lecture by Brigade Major to 10th Kents and Middlesex Officers on open warfare and means of communication in an advance. 1OR evacuated sick.
14th: One Company is attached to 20 D.L.I. to increase their trench strength. With the 20th D.L.I. they relieve the 12th E. Surreys in the right battalion subsector and are in res3reve at SUNDERLAND FARM. Church parade.
15th: DICKEBUSCH and VOORMEZEELE: 9.30am: Relieved 18th K.R.R. in DICKEBUSCH and VOOREZEELE. 1 Company and 1 Platoon in VOORMEZEELE; 2 companies and 3 platoons in DICKEBUSCH. 1 OR wounded.
16th: Our artillery active all day on the left of the canal and more active than usual on our front. Big working Parties as usual and wiring CONVENT and SHELLEY LANE.1 O.R. wounded. Reinforcement Draft 7 O.R., 2 evacuated sick.
17th: Second day’s bombardment of BLUFF postponed owing to bad weather. Nevertheless our artillery unusually active.
18th: 9.30am: Conference of Brigadier and Commanding Officers at centre Battalion Headquarters.
7.30pm: Company attached to 20th D.L.I. at SUNDERLAND FARM returns to DICKEBUSCH. 1 O.R. evacuated sick.
19th: 11.20pm: Our artillery becomes active barraging parts of enemy line along the whole brigade front. Field guns had been pushed up close for this purpose. Two guns are placed just behind S.P.3. From our position in reserve artillery preparation for 11th Queen’s raiding party seems very thorough. German light signals seem very methodical and regular Rockets bursting into one two or three green or red balls go up in turn along the enemy lines. 1 O.R. wounded.
20th: All wiring parties concentrated on R. Line between BUS HOUSE and CRATER LANE. 1 O.R. evacuated sick. 1 O.R. wounded.
21st: Supplementary S.O.S. Signal to be singe green asteroid rocket in future. Strong Point, at trenches O.25, O26, which had been practically completed by our party attached to 233rd Field Company R.E. is blown in by enemy heavy trench mortars. Reinforcement Draft 3 O.R. R.S.M. EASTER rejoins. 2 O.R. evacuated sick.
22nd: RENINGHELST. CHIPPEWA CAMP: Relieved by 15th Hants Battalion. March back to CHIPPEWA CAMP. 1 O.R. evacuated sick.
23rd: CHIPPEWA: Baths and rifle range allotted to Battalion. Owing to the hard frost the baths are unusable and it is decided to keep the men warm by taking them out on route marches and tactical schemes instead of using the range.
24th: Whole battalion as working parties.
25th: During the morning 100 O.R. march to 123rd Brigade School and are there instructed by the staff of the school in Drill, Bayonet Fighting, firing sniperscope in the range, sniping and constructing loopholes and trench fighting. In the afternoon another 100 O.R. are taught the same subjects. Lectures in the Brigade School lecture Room by O.C. Companies on the Defence Scheme.
25th: Inspection of Brigade at training by Army Commander.
26th: Battalion’s day of rest. Too hard for Football. Battalion Concert. Inspection of Brigade by Divisional General.
27th: Whole battalion as Working Parties. Officer reconnoitre. OLD G.H.Q. Line.
28th: CENTRE Battalion. ST. ELOI SECTOR: Relieved 18th K.R.R.
6.40 pm: Relief complete.
3pm – 4pm: Some hostile trench mortar fire by BENJAMIN on Left of locality. Owing to snow patrols go out in white suits. 2 O.R. killed.
29th: Three more trench mortars identified; one heavy and 2 medium. They are in a position to enfilade SHELLEY LANE and CONVENT LANE. 2 O.R. killed; 2 O.R. wounded (1 slightly at duty).
30th: CENTRE BATTALION, ST. ELOI: Heavy trench mortar has not yet fired since the Battalion has been in the line. Ground too hard to be able to do much work on the front line. Very difficult to screw in stakes so wiring consists of thickening wire already put up. 2 Lt NEGRETTI N.C.A. Killed. Lts J.E. STONE and C.W. THOMAS report for duty.
31st: 12.35 am: Warning given to Companies to practice “Stand to”. Battle positions taken up and extra ammunition and bombs issued to the men. Company in reserve at VOORMEZEELE SWITCH took 35 minutes to take up their position in the R. Line and serve out Bombs and S.A.A. Day passed quietly. During the afternoon the enemy energetically shelled SCOTTISH WOOD for counter battery purposes.
9 am: Telephonic communication between companies and Battalion. H.Q. is not allowed until 3 pm. Communication also forbidden between Battalion H.Q. and Brigade H.Q. Runners with relay posts and Wireless are used to replace telephone.

February 1917
1st: CENTRE BATTALION SUB-SECTOR: Party of 25 O.R. from a company in reserve trench told off specially for salvage duties. Good results obtained. Water supply is still very difficult owing to frost. Arrangements have been made to take water in barrels up trench tramway. These are filled from water carts arriving in the evening at VOORMEZEELE.
Tonight water has frozen in cart by the time it reaches VOORMEZEELE and has to be heated. Hostile sniping still very active both in RIGHT and LEFT front companies. 2 O.R. killed by snipers in right front company. 3 O.R. evacuated sick.
2nd: CENTRE BATTALION SUB-SECTOR: COLONEL returns from leave. An officer’s patrol opens fire with a Lewis Gun when a few yards from enemy. M.G. Emplacement putting the enemy gunner out of action. During the afternoon artillery shoot on sniper’s post which has been causing so much trouble in the No.3 CRATER. Observation and correction of fire by one of our officers from front line. Snipers post successfully hit, enemy replies with a few mortars. 1 O.R. killed 2 O.R. to England for commission. 2 Lt SMITH G.B. gazetted Lieutenant with seniority from July 1st.

3rd: Relieved by 15th Hants Regt. Their first platoon arrived at 9.30 am in DICKEBUSCH instead of usual time of 11.30 am. Relief with exception of LOCALITY, complete 2 pm. No one arrived to relieve our platoon in the BUS HOUSE. Wire 12 E. Surrey’s to do so (2.55pm). Relief of BUSHOUSE not actually carried out until 6 p.m.

4th: CHIPPEWA CAMP: Whole battalion employed as working parties. Church parade therefore impossible. 4 O.R. Reinforcements. 2 O.R. evacuated sick. 2 O.R. to England for commission.
5th: Day spent cleaning kit and equipment after trenches, bathing at CHIPPEWA BATHS, and checking deficiencies of kit. 6 O.R. wounded. 2 O.R. evacuated sick. 2 Lts HINEY F.A. and BROOM F.J.M. join battalion.


H.Q., 41ST DIVISION (GENERAL STAFF) DIARY

1st February: RENINGHELST: 4.25am: 124th and 123rd Infantry Brigades report situation normal; wind dangerous. [a reference to risk of Gas attack]
12 noon: Casualties for preceding 24 hours – Other ranks: killed, 5; wounded, 10.
3.50pm: 124th and 123rd Infantry Brigade report situation normal; wind dangerous.
2nd February: RENINGHELST: 4.10am: 123rd and 124th Infantry Brigade report situation normal; wind dangerous.
12 noon: Casualties for preceding 24 hours – Other ranks: wounded, 2.
3.25 pm: 124th and 123rd Infantry Brigades report situation normal; wind dangerous.
3rd February: 4.35am: 124th and 123rd Infantry Brigades report situation normal; wind dangerous.
12 noon: Casualties for preceding 24 hours – Other ranks: wounded, 4.
4th February: 4.20 am: 124th and 123rd Infantry Brigades report situation normal; wind dangerous.
12 noon: Casualties for preceding 24 hours – Other ranks: killed, 2; wounded, 7.

--- The entry from 4th February, suggests that William Feakins died at some time in the afternoon/evening on 3rd February. So, it may well be that he was killed in the late relief of BUS HOUSE.

41st Division Map and Bus House

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Draft Family Tree for (Henry) William Feakins

Feakins Family

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