First World War Project

Herbert Edward COOPER (of Luddenham)

b. September 1889
d. 18th October 1916. Aged 26.

Private, Service Number L/8968
6th Battalion
Buffs (East Kent Regiment)

Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L'abbe
Plot 3, Row G, Grave 78

Died of Wounds

Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L'abbe

(based on Isaiah 26:3)

Headstone inscription was paid for by Mr. E. Cooper, Bennetts Gardens, Four Oaks, Luddenham, Faversham.

Herbert was born in September 1889 in Buckland, near Faversham. "Buckland" and "Four Oaks" sit at the southernmost edge of Luddenham Parish whose church was the closest to the parental home, Bennett's Cottage, close to Four Oaks Lane, Luddenham. He was the eldest son of Edward Augustus and Alice (née Epps) Cooper. His father was a tailor latterly working for the Faversham Union Workhouse. Herbert had one brother (Charles, 19 years younger than Herbert) and five sisters (two older, Alice and Flossie Ellen (after the war, recorded as living at 9 Jubilee Street, Sittingbourne), and three younger, Lillian ("Lillie") Clara, Nellie Mercy and Ethel Wood).

The medical record helps us build a sketch of the man. 5 feet 4⅝ inches tall, weighing 129 lbs. His chest girth was 35" with expansion of 2 inches. Complexion was "fresh", blue eyes, light brown hair. Distinctive marks included scars on both the right shin and left knee. Overall his physical condition was judged "very good" - except for some tooth decay on the right.

Herbert was a farm labourer, who first joined the Colours at the age of 19 years and one month. On 17th October 1908, he enlisted at Canterbury with The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) for 7 years (plus 5 Years in The Reserves). In fact he served for 8 years and 2 days.

Herbert served in four Battalions of The Buffs:

Within this period of eight years, the military record reports a number of events for Herbert:

We are left with a sketch of a man who took an early decision that a life in the army provided him with opportunities and security that farm labouring could not. He made a good soldier (received two lots of "good conduct" pay). He didn't go through life without drama as he moved through four battalions, suffering nonfatal injuries and infections but finally he paid the ultimate price in the Battle of the Somme.

Military Experience in WW1

This was a bitter and wet winter. The 2nd Battalion boarded "SS Inventor" at Southampton on 16th January 1915 to Havre.

On 7th February 1915, the Battalion relieved Yorks and Lancs Regiment at FERME CHAPELLE. These trenches were in a poor condition, knee-deep in water in places and the parapets were not bullet proof. The trenches were dug in straight lines, opening them to enfilade fire. By the time The Buffs were relieved (9th February) "many men went sick owing to swollen feet and frostbite." There were also a few battle casualties too. After rest and further training they returned to the same cold and wet trenches on 12th February. The mud rendered many rifles useless by the end of a relief, which significantly weakened their occupation of trenches.

Herbert was very quickly in the thick of desperate fighting in response to German attacks on British trenches to the South and South-east of YPRES. The arrival of the 2nd Battalion, The Buffs, helped stabilise the position. On 14th February, The 2/Buffs joined with 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment (300 men) who were to lead the attack to recover lost trenches.

15th February: YPRES: The Battalion mobilised, moving into woodland for cover as they approached to within 150 yards of the German line to launch an attack. "The attack was timed for 9pm, and the position of deployment had been reached without opposition or casualties. The enemy roused by the artillery fire sent up flares and located the attacking force, pouring in terrific fire from rifles, machine guns and trench mortars.
The Command to advance was immediately given and 2nd Battalion the Buffs dashed forward with fixed bayonettes and gained the trench, driving out the enemy. The 2nd East Surrey were also met with a very heavy fire, and the majority of them being wiped out they failed to reach the trench in support of 2nd Buffs. The extent of the enemy's trench was about 250 yards and the total number of the Buffs who reached the trench was only about 60 rifles so that only the left half of the trench was occupied, the other half being retained by the enemy. An attack was led up the trench to drive them out but owing to a strong position in the trench being held by them with rifles, bombs, and hand grenades and owing to most of our rifles being out of action from the mud the enemy retained that position of the trench." Casualties: 2 officers killed, 10 wounded; 13 O.R.s killed, 40 wounded and 10 missing.

On relief, 2/Buffs returned to billets in OUDERDOM where they remained during 16th February. On February 17th, the Battalion moved into Chateau ROSENDAL where they sheltered from the rain in part of the building. On one of these days, Herbert was taken out of the Battalion and arrived in Boulougne Hospital on 17th February, one of many soldiers who suffered from frostbite resulting from the combination of cold and waterlogged "O" Trench.

As Colonel Moody in his History of The Buffs put it: "O" Trench - "The other Battalions of the Brigade were in somewhat similar conditions to the Buffs, and were daily and rapidly being reduced in fighting strength and efficiency, chiefly through frost-bite and sickness. So serious had things become owing to this reduction in fighting strength that that, by the 13th February, it was decided to relieve the brigade, and to withdraw it to recoup and refit as soon as other troops were available to replace in the line." A new trench at the rear of "O" trench was dug to shorten the line and relieve conditions. When the British troops were withdrawn to that new line, the Germans attacked and occupied "O" Trench!

It appears that Herbert's frostbite was serious as he went firstly to Boulogne Hospital, then in "3rd Western General Hospital" (Cardiff or Newport - the Hospital was spread over several sites of previously civilian hospitals in south Wales) after which he was sent home into a local hospital (perhaps Faversham) followed by a short period of recuperation. Our working assumption is that he suffered this injury to his feet, but have no confirmation of any amputations (e.g. toes).

From 29th July 1915 Herbert was again declared 'fit for duty' and this time he was posted to 6th Battalion, The Buffs.

Herbert's story continues with his posting to the newly-formed 6th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). The Battalion was first mobilise when it left Aldershot in two groups - 31st May and 1st June 1915 - destined initially for Boulogne and then PONT-A-BRIQUE, Railway Plateau.

By the time Herbert joined his new Battalion, it was at the Front around DESPIERRE FARM.

This was not a period of the war that saw much strategic fighting. Mostly, fighting was localised, static and featured tit-for-tat heavy shelling, sniping, machine gun and small arms enfilades, mortars and mining. When relieved from the Front, 6th Buffs occupied billets in OOSTHOVE FARM. It is most probable that Herbert arrived when the Battalion was in these billets (29th July - 3rd August 1915). Herbert's Battalion return to trenches followed the general pattern - "situation quiet". On 28th September 1915, the 6/Buffs were relieved back to Armentières before marching to STEENWERCK station from where the Battalion eventually arrived in VERMELLES.

Over the next eleven months, nothing is noted in the record for Herbert Edward Cooper.

August 1916: Herbert is reported "missing" (3rd August) then "injured" (4th August). War Diary entries.

[From the continuous attack overnight (3rd/4th August) it is not surprising that there was some confusion over Herbert Cooper's fate.]

26th July 1916BOUZINCOURT: Order received that this Battalion was to go up to the line today. The Battalion left at 2.30pm and met guides of the 1/6th Gloucesters, relieving them in the support trenches. Battalion H.Q. in DONNET POST, "A" Company RIBBLE STREET, "B" and "D" Companies OVILLERS POST, "C" Company CRUCIFIX CORNER.

27th July 1916TRENCHES: Remainder of Brigade, including Brigade H.Q. relieved 144th Brigade. The Queens and Royal West Kents being in the front line - OVILLERS sector -and East Surreys in reserve in MARTINSART WOOD. Several working parties provided.

28th July 1916: TRENCHES: Brigade H.Q. move to OVILLERS POST, Brigade H.Q. changing to DONNET POST. Working parties found. The bodies of 2nd Lieutenant COX and 2nd Lieutenant BATSON were found.

29th July 1916: TRENCHES: Quiet day; very hot. Usual working parties supplied. Germans used gas on Pozières during the evening.

30th July 1916: TRENCHES: Very hot again. Royal Engineers carrying parties and working parties found. Voluntary service held at 2.30 p.m. on the ground behind Battalion H.Q. Lieutenant BURTON's body found.

31st July 1916: TRENCHES: Battalion relieved 6th Queens in the front line, the relief being completed by 9.15 a.m. "B" and "D" companies in the front line, "C" and "A" and Battalion H.Q. OVILLERS. Captain LEIGH's body was found.
About 10.30 p.m. a patrol consisting of 2nd Lieutenant BETTINGTON, 2nd Lieutenant WOOLDRIDGE and 10 O.R. left the trenches to reconnoitre a strong point held by the enemy at X3A23. If this point was found to be lightly held, it was to have been occupied by 2 platoons of "B" Company and the trench running West of it. Considerable activity however was discovered, a great number of Very lights being sent up and burst of Machine Gun fire and rifle shots.
In view of this, the patrol which had got within 15 yards of the German parapet, sent back a report to this effect, and it was decided not to proceed further.

[Field State Report: On 28th July, 6th/Buffs consisted of 38 Officers, 778 Other Ranks, 13 riding horses and 43 draught horses. The distribution of responsibilities being: 2 men devoted to limbers for Lewis Guns; 4 cooks; 1 man for Officers' Mess Carts; 8 manning machine and Lewis guns; 1 man for the medical cart; 2 for the tools carts; 5 to man the small arms ammunition carts; 2 for water carts. This left a total of 776 rifles]

1st August: TRENCHES: Orders received that the Battalion would attack a German strong point on following Thursday. Captain A.S. Smeltzet (?) took over command of "D" Company again. 2 jump-out trenches were dug, one by 5th NORTHAMPTONSHIRES and the other by "C" Company.
A patrol under 2nd Lieutenant MOON went out during the night to reconnoitre an old German trench. This was found to be wired up. Some Germans were encountered and an exchange of bombs too place.

2nd August: TRENCHES: Company Commanders went up to the line on the far side of MASH VALLEY where a good view of the strong point to be attacked could be got. The 9.2's were supposed to fire on this redoubt during the afternoon, but owing to faulty observation, no shells fell in the right spot.

3rd-4th August: TRENCHES: Orders from Brigade re attack received. The day was quiet on the whole. In the afternoon the Battalion moved into position for the attack. "B" Company on the left, "D" Company on the right. "A" and "C" Companies in reserve.
About 9 p.m. the enemy shelled our trenches heavily, but the French 75's were turned on to the German batteries with gas shells, which completely stopped the shelling. The guns then opened an intensive bombardment of the enemy's trenches. At 11 p.m. 2nd Lieutenant HANMER and a party of bombers crept up under the barrage to be ready to bomb an enemy machine gun should it open on our men or on the 8th Fusiliers on the right. At 11.05 p.m. "B" Company went over the parapet, followed by "D" Company, the barrage lifting at the same time. "D" Company then went through "B" to take the trench on the left of the strong point. "D" Company went rather to the right. "A" Company were brought up from reserve and then "C" who consolidated the strong point taken, together with a Company of Royal Engineers. The Companies then pushed on and when dawn broke it was found that "B" Company was in RATION TRENCH, where 2 blocks had been made. 2nd Lieutenant ROUTLEY and a SUSSEX officer made a reconnaissance as far as MOUQUET FARM. The Germans attempted a counter-attack from MOUQUET FARM, upon whom our Lewis Guns were turned with good effect. All the dug-outs in the captured trenches were cleared of Germans, the total bag of prisoners amounting to 2 officer (one of whom was an Iron Cross) and 87 Other Ranks chiefly PRUSSIAN Infantry. About 4 a.m. the enemy started to shell the captured trenches. About 11 a.m. the Battalion was relieved by the 6th Royal West Kent Regiment going back to buts in MARTINSART WOOD. The total casualties were:- 4 officers wounded, 114 Other Ranks killed, wounded and missing.

5th August: MARTINSART WOOD: Quiet day in MARTINSART WOOD. MOUQUET FARM was heavily shelled by our heavies.

We know from his military records that Herbert was wounded in the face by shrapnel during this overnight action. The injury was not serious enough to hospitalise him for long as he was patched up and returned to his Battalion on 12th August ahead of them moving.

On 13th August, the Battalion moved from BOUZINCOURT to billets at MEDAUVILLE. On 14th, the Battalion marched via FORCEVILLE and ACHEUX to LEALVILLERS. The next day they left for BUS-LES-ARTOIS, via LOUVENCOURT. "The drums of 1st Battalion Irish Guards and 1st Battalion The Buffs played the Battalion through LOUVENCOURT." From BUS the Battalion moved (16th August) to billets in HALLOY. They entered billets at GRANDE RULLECOURT on 17th August from where they moved into the trenches of F.C. Sector (FICHEUX & RIVIERE). When relieved, their billets were in RIVIERE.

The Notice board: (29th August) "A notice board announcing in German the fact that Italy and ROUMANIA had declared war was put up on our parapet. The Germans were much incensed and opened a heavy fire with rifles and grenades upon it. Though it was knocked down several times, it was carefully replaced on each occasion."

On 27th September, the Battalion was relieved and (28th) moved by bus to LUCHEUX & GROUCHES then (29th) DOULENS, AMIENS, and a camp 1 mile south-west of ALBERT.

This brings Private Herbert Edward Cooper to his last few days in October 1916. According to the War Diary:

1st October: ALBERT: Battalion left the camp on AMIENS-ALBERT Road and went by motor bus via ALBERT - BELLACUE BELFORT - FRICOURT, MAMETZ to LONGUEVAL. From here the Battalion marched to bivouacs North of BERNAFAY and TRONES WOODS.
At 6pm the Battalion left and marched via DELVILLE WOOD to RESERVE LINE, South of GUEDECOURT, reliving 8th and 9th LEICESTERS (21st Division). 6th Queens and 7th Surrey Regiment were in the front line and 6th R.W. Kent in Reserve in LONGUEVAL VALLEY.

2nd October: Some rain during the day. The following officers were left behind with Transport. "A" Company: 2/Lt GREEN.
Major SANDIFORD, R.S.M., one sergeant, 1 corporal per company B.L.G. and 5 signallers; "B" Company 2/Lt JEANES & 2/Lt VERTUE; "C" Company 2/Lt McDERMOT; "D" Company 2/Lt KITCHIN.

3rd October: SWITCH TRENCH: Quiet day. The Battalion supplied a working party to dig a communication trench to GIRD TRENCH. Some casualties from enemy's shells during the night.

4th October: SWITCH TRENCH:Heavy rain all day. Working Party again found for digging.

5th October: SWITCH TRENCH: 2nd Lieutenants WILLIAMS, JONES AND STEPHENS reported for duty. Quiet day but heavy rain.

6th October: SWITCH TRENCH: The Battalion relieved the 6th Queens in the front line trenches in front of GUEDECOURT at nightfall. "A" Company on Right. "B" Company in Centre. "C" Company on the Left and Battalion H.Q. in the front line trench, and "D" Company in support in GIRD TRENCH. 2nd Lieutenant BOND relieved 2nd Lieutenant MOON in command LEWIS GUNS and 2nd Lieutenants VERTUE and WILLIAMS came up to act as liaison officers with left Battalion 61st Brigade (12th Battalion LIVERPOOL Regiment) on the Rights and 6th R.W. Kent Regiment on the left.

7th October: GUEDECOURT: Very fine day. The following orders for attack were issued to Companies. OPERATION ORDER No.23 by Lt. Col. T.G.COPE, DSO, Commanding 6th The Buffs.
1. The General Advance of the Allies will be resumed on the 7th inst.
2. The 37th Infantry Brigade will carry out the attack on the German Trenches in 2 stages.
A. At ZERO the Infantry will advance and capture the line N.21.C.90 to N.20.D.8.7.- known as the Green Line.
B. At ZERO + 20 minutes a further advance will be made to the final objective on the line N.21.B.6.0. - N.15.C.2.8. - The Brown Line.
3. The attack will be carried out as follows:- 6th The Buffs on the Right. 6th R.W. Kent Regiment on the Left. The dividing lines between Battalions is GUEDECOURT - BEAULANCOURT ROAD at N.27.A.1.7. and thence to N.21.A.7.8. 12th Battalion LIVERPOOL Regiment (61st Brigade) will be on the Right. The dividing line will be N.27.A.50. - N.21.B.6.0. {inclusive to The Buffs}.
4. Companies will attack as follows: "A" Company Right; "B" Company Centre; "C" Left.
"A" Company: 1st Objective: New Trench 50 yards North of Gap in Bank; 2nd Objective: Trench on crest of GUEDECOURT-BEAULANCOURT Road at N.21.B.50.
"B" Company: 1st Objective: 2 enemy trenches on East side of above road about N.21.c.7. & 8.1. "B" Company will remain here in support, reorganising and be ready to support either flank as required.
"C" Company : 1st Objective: Trench on North of GUED and BEAUL Road 20 yards above the bank. 2nd Objective: Up slope where brown field joins green field as pointed out to Officer Commanding Company on the ground.
These Companies will be formed up along North edge of GUEDECOURT. Companies will attack in 4 waves, 1 platoon to a wave, 50 yards interval between waves. As soon as platoons cross the parapet they will extend to 2 paces. Prior to assault, bayonets will be fixed and magazines charged with 10 rounds.
5. Each platoon will have a 'mopping up' party of 1 NCO and 8 men, who will carry 10 bombs a piece. Their duty will be to bomb dug-outs and to see that a sentry is posted at every dug-out entrance.
6. "D" Company will form up 1 hour before zero in the NEW TRENCH with head at N.26.A.10.8. on the SUNKEN ROAD. 1st platoon will act as carrying party to "A" Company. 2nd to "B" Company. 3rd to "C" Company. 4th Platoon will construct a strong point at N.21.C.5.4. on the GREEN LINE, when this has been captured, to hold a garrison of 30 men, 2 Lewis guns, (which will accompany this platoon) and one Vickers Machine Gun. 1 N.C.O. of 37th Machine Hun Company will be attached to advise as regards the placing of the gun.
7. Every man, with exception of the 1st 2 waves of each company will carry tools in the following proportion: 75% shovels, 25% picks. Every man with exception of the bombing squads who will carry 10 Mills bombs and 50 rounds S.A.A. In addition the 3 carrying platoons of "D" Company will carry 5 bandoliers (250 rounds) per man with exception of 4 men who will carry 2 boxes VERY LIGHTS.
8. A forward dump for rations, water, S.A.A. and R.E. Stores is being formed at the junction of GIRD TRENCH and NEW C.T. about 26.C.6.1.
9. Lewis Guns: Guns will accompany their companies. 1 going with 1st platoon, which will engage the enemy wherever found, and afford covering fire for the advancing troops, and the other going with the 4th wave, which will on the final objective being reached, push on to the far side of the ridge together with patrols to be sent out by each Company to cover the troops digging in 150 yards below the sky line. These Orders are to be carried out under instructions to be issued by L.G.O. The guns of "D" Company will accompany 4th Platoon and will take up a position in the strong point being constructed at N.21.C.54.
10. Artillery: The attack will be preceded by an artillery bombardment.
(a) At Zero, a creeping barrage will open 150 yards in front of our front line trenches;
(b) At Zero + 2 minutes the barrage will lift and proceed at the rate of 50 yards per minute til it reaches a line 150 yards beyond GREEN LINE.
(c) At Zero + 20 minutes the barrage will lift again and proceed at 50 yards per minute until a line is reached 150 in front in front of the 'brown line' where it will remain until no longer required.
(d) A 'stationery barrage' will be maintained on the enemy's support line.
11. Each Company will have a special party of 1 N.C.O. and 6 to act as 'Blocking party' on the flanks of each Company.
12. When the objective has been reached, the position gained will be signalled to 'contact' aeroplanes who will be recognised by a black band under the left plane, by means of yellow flares - 15 of these have been issued per Company and will be carried by 4th wave. They should only be lighted when an aeroplane is in the neighbourhood, but will, however, lit at at following hours:- 4 p.m. & 5 p.m. October 7th, 7 a.m. October 8th.
13. Watches will be synchronize by a watch sent out from Battalion H.Q. between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. today.
14. All prisoners will be employed to carry down the wounded - 4 prisoners for stretcher being allotted, escort being 1 O.R. to 10.
15. All wounded will be taken to Regimental Aid post in the gun pits in GUEDECOURT, just behind present Battalion H.Q.
16. Battalion H.Q. will move forward when 2nd objective has been gained to about N.21.C.7.0.
17. Battalion H.Q. pioneers will be responsible for digging Battalion H.Q.
18. Rum will be issued prior to the assault, and will be distributed by O.C. Companies at a time to be fixed by them.
19. Zero hour will be 1.45 p.m.
20. Acknowledge
Signed J. Page, Captain. Adjutant. 6th The Buffs. 7.10.16.

Quiet morning. At 1.30pm the enemy opened a heavy Machine Gun fire and shrapnel barrage on the front line. At 1.45pm the attack commenced. Very heavy Machine Gun fire was opened, which held up "C" Company on the right. "A" and "B" Companies reached the 1st objective with fairly heavy casualties, but on advancing from the 1st to the 2nd objective were completely held up with Machine Gun fire.20 men of "A" Company succeeded in getting into touch with 61st Brigade and advanced with them.
The 1st objective was held til 12 midnight when the Battalion was relieved by the 6th Queens. The 6th R.W. Kent Regiment were held up on the left by Machine Gun fire; the 61st Brigade on the right attained their objective. On relief the Battalion went back to bivouacs in LONGUEVAL VALLEY.

The following casualties were suffered during the day.
Officers: Killed:
 8 (Lieutenant HATCH, 2nd Lieutenant OMMANEY, 2nd Lieutenant NORRIE, 2nd Lieutenant 2nd Lieutenant ROUTLEY, 2nd Lieutenant LOTT, 2nd Lieutenant HARNETT, 2nd Lieutenant MOSS, Captain PAGEN R.A.M.C.)
Wounded: 12 (Lieutenant Colonel T.G. COPE D.S.O.,Lieutenant CUMBERBATCH, Lieutenant BOND, Lieutenant CHAPMAN, 2nd Lieutenant KIDD, 2nd Lieutenant WOODRIDGE, 2nd Lieutenant TAYLOR, 2nd Lieutenant SPRINGAY-MASON, 2nd Lieutenant TURK, 2nd Lieutenant TAYLOR, 2nd Lieutenant JACOBS.
Other Ranks: Killed, wounded and missing: 347.
4 Prisoners were captured.

8th October: LONGUEVAL: Battalion rested in bivouacs. Heavy rain fell.

9th October: LONGUEVAL: The combined drums of the 1st & 6th Battalions played during the afternoon.

10th October: LONGEUVAL: Quiet day; some shelling on the LONGUEVAL Ridge. A working party of 4 officer & 200 Other Ranks found for trench-boarding GAP TRENCH. Party returned 3 a.m.

11th October: LONGEUVAL: Heavy rain all day. 2nd Lieutenant BETTINGTON returned from hospital and took over command of "C" Company.

12th October: LONGEUVAL: Further working and carrying parties found. Quiet day.

13th October: MONTAUBAN: The Battalion left LONGEUVAL and went into bivouacs in POMMIERS CAMP near MONTAUBAN.

14th October: MONTAUBAN: Working parties of 100 Other Ranks were found for work in DELVILLE WOOD.

[There are no records of actions or casualties that day in the War Diary. However, there is supporting evidence for some unspecified event such as a fragmentation shell (?) in DELVILLE WOOD through the CWGC lists for 6th Battalion who "died of wounds" at Heilly Station (Hospital) Cemetery. Between 14th and 31st October, the 6th Battalion suffered 2 other "died of wounds".
14th October = Private William Henry VOUSDEN from Goudhurst (8550)
15th October = Lance Corporal Thomas Edwin John THOMAS (L/9263) from Rochester
18th October = Private Herbert Edward COOPER from Luddenham (L/8968)]

15th October: POMIERS CAMP: Church Parade at the camp in the morning. Quiet day.

16th October: POMIERS CAMP: Company parades in the morning. Heavy rain during afternoon.

17th October: POMIERS CAMP: Draft of 45 Other Ranks chiefly 1st & 2nd Battalion and old 6th Battalion arrived.

18th October: POMIERS CAMP: Draft of 84 Other Ranks arrived. Orders to 'stand to' at 1/2 an hours notice were received.

[This was the date on which Herbert Edward COOPER died of wounds]

19th October: POMMIERS CAMP: General attack made - 35th Brigade were held up by Machine Gun fire, but the Divisions on the right and left took some ground. Draft of 164 Other Ranks arrived.

20th October: RIBEMONT: The Battalion moved off at 9 a.m. and marched via MAMETZ FIRCOURT to billets in RIBEMONT.

On this date, [FIELD STATE Report] the overall strength of the Battalion was given as 19 Officer; 583 Other Ranks. This figure includes the two recent drafts amounting to 248 Other Ranks.

Draft Family Tree for Herbert Edward Cooper

Draft family tree for Herbert Edward Cooper

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