Interview with Ronald Roffey


Interview with Ronald Roffey


Ronald was born in Charlton, south-east London. He went to Charlton Junior School and was nine when war was declared. He remembered being fitted for a gas mask at his school. His aunt who lived in Torquay found a private billet for him and his mother in Barton, near Torquay. His mother returned to London and in September 1940; during the Blitz Ronald took a train journey back to London, meeting his mother at Paddington station. On their way back to Charlton the sky was red and all of the north bank of the Thames was alight. Ronald’s father worked for Siemens. He was also a fire warden and on one occasion the family had to evacuate their house when an unexploded bomb was found next to their garden. They went to stay with grandmother’s sister in her flat near Charlton lido. Ronald went back to Torquay before returning to London when the V-1s and V-2s were being dropped. At eleven he went to Woolwich Central School. He remembers a bomb falling on a pub behind the school. All of the school windows were broken but fortunately the children were in the playground and no one was hurt. Ronald joined the Boy Scouts and Holy Trinity Church choir. After he was confirmed at 12, he became a server. There was one occasion when an incendiary bomb fell on the church, lodging in the spire and it was his father who climbed up and put out the fire. Ronald left school at 17 and went to work in London. There he met his future wife Joan and they married in 1953. When Ronald was about 20 he heard that his cousin Richard, who flew in Bomber Command, had been reported missing, presumed dead.




Temporal Coverage




00:41:06 audio recording


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AC: This is Andrew Cowley working on behalf of IBCC. I’m interviewing Ronald Roffey at his home in Chislehurst, Kent. We are the only people present. The date is the 30th of August 2018 and it’s five past two. So, Ronald, if I can call you that —
RR: Sure.
AC: If you’d like to start me off about your family life and go on to the bombing and then on to your cousin.
RR: Right. Ok. Well, my full name is Ronald Arthur Roffey. I was born in Charlton, South East London in, on the 2nd of May 1930. I went to school in Charlton, at Junior School. And I was nine when war was declared. Just before that I went to, I was in the infant school at Maryon Park School in Charlton which was my school, and remember vividly the amount of material that was being produced on the problems that were happening in Spain in the Spanish Civil War and as a child it was quite frightening to me to see vans with loudspeakers on and big posters with children and mothers running from being bombed in Spain. So that was my pre, that was how it all happened and then of course we came along. War was declared. I remember going to be fitted with my gas mask in Maryon Park School. My school. And then of course we had the situation with evacuation. I was an evacuee. I didn’t, I wasn’t evacuated with my school. My mother’s sister had already gone to, decided to leave London because of the threat of the bombing and she, she moved to, took temporary accommodation at Torquay in South Devon. And when the situation came about my mother asking her whether I should be evacuated my aunt found my mother and I a private billet in Barton just outside Torquay and we went there during what was known as the Phoney War when we were all expecting to be bombed immediately. And for the first three months of course nothing happened. So I was down in Torquay. I went to, I lived in Barton on the outskirts of Torquay and I went to Barton Hill Road School. And my mother left me there with this, with my new parents but I wasn’t there very long. I had that I wasn’t one of these evacuees that was gone for four and half years and came back. Because I was privately situated I seem to somehow come back to London on two occasions. The first occasion I came back to London on the 7th of September 1940 when London was blitzed quite badly. I travelled all the way from Torquay on the train on my own bearing in mind I was ten. My mother met me at the barrier at Paddington Station and we got the train down to Charlton and my first memories was getting out of Charlton Station and the sky, this was in the evening, the sky was red. It was just red. And when we walked, we lived on the Woolwich Road which ran parallel with the river very close to what is now known as Charlton Riverside and all of the north bank of the, of the Thames was alight and we could see them because we lived on the Woolwich Road. There was nothing between us and the river except the factories on the southern, southern side of the river and we could see the fire, and the fires burning and the whole night sky was red. So I was back. I was back in London. I went back to school in Maryon Park School in classes that had all ages. We went one week mornings, one week afternoons. And I got to the age of eleven and I was, it was decided that I would go to Woolwich Central School. Now, Woolwich Central School was located in Bloomfield Road, Plumstead so of course I had to get the bus from Charlton. The 53 bus from Charlton to school in Plumstead. And during that, during that time I was in London we had an Anderson shelter in the garden that my father put there at the beginning of the war. Dug the hole in the garden and he dug it very deep so he had a little corridor that went down. It wasn’t half in and half out. We had a little corridor that went down with steps and I used to stay in the shelter with my grandmother, my aunt and my mum. Dad was a firewatcher. He went out dealing with the, with the incendiaries etcetera that were falling, and we were, we were in London during those terrible days when we were getting in the shelter at five in the morning, sorry seven in the evening and getting up at five in the morning and we had bombs dropping all around us. Our nearest escape apart from having all the windows and doors blown out of the house. We had a, I lived four doors from a public house called the Horse and Groom on the corner of Charlton Lane and the nearest we had was an unexploded oil bomb that fell in the garden of the pub and our Anderson shelter was adjacent by knocking on the pub door. And I can remember vividly when the all clear went at five, 5 o’clock in the morning of coming out of the shelter, going into the house and sitting down at the table in our below level of the house and a shadow on the window. And it was a policeman with his helmet and he took all the whole window up. I just saw this face with a helmet and he said, ‘Sorry, but you’ve got to get out. You’ve got an unexploded bomb in the garden at the back of your — ’ So we all had to get out. My aunt, my grandmother had a sister that lived in Upper Charlton near Shooters Hill Road near the Charlton Lido. She had a flat there and we all picked up our bits and pieces and we all decamped to her flat there and again we took shelter in Anderson shelters that were dug into the grounds of these flats near Charlton Lido. From then on I, I generated to go, I started to go back to, to Torquay. My next memory is my, my aunt who was still there found me some accommodation at another house in Barton Hill Road. Not the same house as I was at. I was with the elderly couple who mum and I were with, but she found me a house and I went down on my own and I lived in a house that a lady took me in. Her name was Coward. Mr and Mrs Coward and she had three boys of her own and she took me and another lad in. So back to the same house. Back to the same school and I stayed there. I stayed at Barton Hill Road School until [pause] Well, I can’t remember the number of months, but I was due to leave school to go to another school in Babbacombe Downs which was the, was the local Central School. But I didn’t last that long because I was back in London again. I can’t, I can’t time it. It just, I was just back in London. And of course I came back for the flying bombs. The V-1s and the V-2s. I came back to Charlton, went to and of course started to go to Woolwich Central School in Bloomfield Road. Getting the bus. And we had instructions from the headmaster that we were not to travel during air raids, but of course that was impossible with flying bombs because you didn’t know when they were coming. So I get on the number 53 bus and by the time I’d got to Plumstead the warning had gone several times and invariably I always arrived at school during a, [laughs] during a warning but nevertheless we soldiered on. It was full time school there. We then moved on to the V-2s which were a little more lethal, and my experience there was one day we were, by the way it was full time. It wasn’t morning or afternoons. We were back to full time school by this time because we were getting towards the end of the war although we didn’t know that at the time and we were all in the playground and a rocket fell on the Lord Bloomfield which was a pub at the top of, on the estate at the top of the Bloomfield Road. It fell behind. And of course we didn’t know anything except it just went bang and all the glass in the school came out and we were in the yard playing. Fortunately none of us was hurt but we were all, there was glass everywhere. And that was my experience of World War Two. I finished school when I was seventeen. Still at Bloomfield Road.
AC: Did [coughs] did you have any thoughts when you were being bombed about who was doing it and what the British were doing in the way of bombing?
RR: No. Not really. I knew it was the Germans of course. And, but as far as the other things that were going on that never came in to, never came into my thoughts at all. I was more concerned in getting out the shelter, getting to school, coming home and just getting on with my own life. No. I never thought about what we were doing. Except that of course all the flak and the guns and God knows what but no.
AC: Ok. So, perhaps we can go on to your cousin Richard Stanley Bastick.
RR: Yes.
AC: What can you tell me about him.
RR: I was nine when war broke out. My, just very briefly before I do that my, my father was one of ten and it was a very loose family. Lots of families in those days were quite close but my father’s family was quite unclose if that’s the right expression. He kept in touch with some of his brothers and, but he didn’t keep in touch with all of them so not, I didn’t know many of them, but I did know Richard. Richard’s mum. Rose Lilian was the girl in the, my father’s family. My father was the youngest son so I think Rose because she was the only surviving daughter took, I suppose took my dad under her wing because he was her youngest brother and he kept in touch with her. I was nine, Richard was nine years older than me. So of course I never ever met him. I heard about him briefly when my dad got in touch with his sister and she said, ‘Oh, Dick’s gone off,’ Blah blah blah. And it was only what I heard from mum and dad talking at the table because I was just a kid. You know. And I thought oh Richard’s going into the forces. Full stop. So I never really met him. He came, he came within my orbit if you like much later. I, I went to, I was, I met my wife my present wife, my current wife when I was, left school at seventeen and went to work in London. And we married in 1953 and in the few years and I can’t remember exactly but in the few years before we got married we were engaged for three years. So I knew, Joan and I were going together when I was twenty. And it was during that time just before I was twenty and just after I was twenty that my father and mother took me to Richard’s mum Rose where she lived in Belford Grove, Woolwich. And it was on one of those visits that obviously after Dick had been presumed killed, missing and Auntie Rose as I knew her of course was terribly, terribly down. It had a very profound effect on Rose. He was her only child. Most of my father’s family had only children strangely enough and Dick was Auntie Rose’s only son. And his loss really had a profound effect on her. She turned to Ouija boards where we all sat around the table and we all put our fingers on the glass and it told, it told what wanted to ask us questions. That was my first and Joan’s first introduction to that sort of thing but it really was critical for her. And when we visited her and it wasn’t often but when we visited her she had this little picture of Dick on her mantlepiece and she always tried to show me the face of the child that was in his flying jacket. She could see a child’s face in his flying jacket. He was with his crew and in front of his aircraft and she could see this child’s face and it really, whether because he was her only son and I understand from what my mum told me that she’d had several miscarriages I think she’d had trouble having, having a child, and whether that that, all that difficulty registered with her and Dick was a lot closer maybe than a mum and son I don’t know but it really was, had a profound affect and she never shook it off. She and Gordon, her husband we visited her several times and I married in 1953 and I know Rose was, said to me would I, would I like to go and live, buy her house from her because she and Gordon were thinking of moving. And it wasn’t our cup of tea but we, we sat and talked about it and we decided no we didn’t. But she then, they then moved to Battle in Sussex, East Sussex and from there on in Joan and I used to visit her and Gordon at this little bungalow they had in Battle. And we visited them twice a year until Rose died in 1970 and then Gordon died some years later. But that was my connection. All I knew. So it was I never knew Dick, never met him but through his mum I got to know him quite well.
AC: Did she tell you anything about his time in Bomber Command?
RR: No. Not a thing. Except that he was in Bomber Command and that he was lost and his remains were not known. Nothing about Bomber Command at all.
AC: Right. But yet have you found out something about him? About what he did with Bomber Command.
RR: No. I’ve gone through the records. I’ve had, I’ve been in touch with the Air Ministry and so on and I got all his training and so on. Where he went and what he did and so on but only the official stuff. But no. As I say I never met him. I wish I had have done but because of the difference in our ages of course that never took place.
[recording paused]
AC: Right. Perhaps we can go back to when you were in the Nissen hut being bombed.
RR: Oh, when I was in the Anderson shelter.
AC: Sorry. In the Anderson shelter.
RR: Right. The Anderson shelter. Yes. We were in the Anderson shelter as I’ve mentioned. In at seven up at five. And then after a while my grandmother who was of course elderly became quite ill, and because of going out in the cold weather, going underground with an oil stove inside and the fumes of the oil stove and God knows what she became very ill. Doctor used to visit her and go down in to the Anderson shelter to treat her. But when we got her out it was decided that maybe we ought not take shelter below ground but to find somewhere else. My father worked in Siemens. In fact, the Roffey family had several hundred years of service with Siemens. Brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins. But my father worked in Siemens and Siemens had their own air raid shelters built in, just in the precincts of the factory and he arranged for us to go and shelter in these concrete shelters. Reinforced concrete shelters. So we walked along the Woolwich Road in to the works and went down there. And we spent several, several weeks if not longer sheltering in Siemens Brothers’ shelter. Moving on that, that stopped for some reason and I don’t know why but during the V-1 when the V-1s started there was some brick shelters built in Charlton Lane. From the Woolwich Road we lived on the almost on the corner of Charlton Lane, next door to the Horse and Groom which was on the corner. We lived three doors from there and opposite the Horse and Groom across Charlton Lane was Holy Trinity Church. So you had a church on one corner of Charlton Lane that butted on to the Woolwich Road and you had the pub on the other corner. And on the path and halfway in the road there were some brick shelters built. Surface shelters. And during the V-1 raids we used to travel from our three doors away across to the brick shelters next to the church and shelter in there. So [pause] and we, we sheltered in there through the V-1s and the V-2s.
AC: And do you have any memories of your emotions? What you were feeling while you were in the Anderson shelters?
RR: I never for one moment felt frightened. I was more, I was more concerned because my father was a fire watcher and he was doing all sorts of things putting out fires. I was more concerned about his safety then mine. But I never had, felt any emotions whatsoever. It was just something that we had to go to the shelter. The banging and the movement of I never for one moment felt afraid. It was strange but I didn’t.
AC: And how did you pass the time while you were in the shelter?
RR: I just can’t remember.
AC: Yeah.
RR: We used to go in there. Again, it was a community. Being a brick shelter we weren’t the only, it was built with bunks either side with a corridor down the middle and elsan toilets at the end and two bunks and all the families. So I presume, I can’t remember but as children we used to play. And later on in the war we used to, I was very friendly with a boy that lived in the pub. In the Horse and Groom. He was a little younger than me but we became quite friendly and I spent lots of time with him, but no I can’t really remember what we didn’t in the Anderson [laughs] in the brick shelters.
AC: What about in the Anderson shelter? What did you have in there?
RR: The Anderson shelter was it was two bunks either side. We had this oil stove. My father being a sheet metal worker had created, had built a flue with a cowl on the top through the soil so to let the fumes out and so on. So we had a, but then there were other heaters in there and it was covered with blankets. One thing I do remember, come to mind now that I really did get frightened was we went to the brick shelter in the evening but of course the flying bombs, the V-1s were coming over all day and of course I was at home all day. Mum and dad were doing their jobs. My dad was in Siemens, my mother was a shirt, worked at the shirt factory in Woolwich and I was at home with my grandmother and the warning went one day. The warning went and I got grandmother down in the Anderson shelter in the garden and I stood, because there was like a little, it was underground and it came up two steps and up on to the path in the garden and I stood by the door in the garden and I could hear this flying bomb coming and I looked up and it was coming across from Charlton Village. Now, I doubt you know the area. I’m on the Woolwich Road down the riverside. Charlton Village was up the hill and I could see this flying bomb coming towards me. Towards me. It wasn’t actually but that’s what it looked like and suddenly its engine stopped and it started to come down and it started to come down towards me coming down. And that really, I was really very, very frightened. And I was on the point of rushing down and getting in the shelter when I looked again and it turned around. In its fall it turned around and it flew back towards Charlton Village and it fell on the Bugle Horn, the public house in Charlton Village. And if that hadn’t have turned around I’m sure it would have come down but that was my only frightening moment.
AC: And what about damage around where you lived? Were you —
RR: There wasn’t. Apart from windows out, doors out and so on the main damage was because Siemens was a German factory and Lord Haw Haw always said, ‘Siemens, we know where you are.’ That was obviously a prime target for south, for the south of the river where we were. There were bombs. There were no bomb, bomb damage that I could, from the Woolwich Road along through the Woolwich Road but there were a few bombs dropped from the East Street, West Street and Manor Way that ran down towards the river adjacent to Siemens. But no actual, there were no, I couldn’t remember any actual bomb damage in the, in the locality.
AC: And what about any of your neighbours or friends? Have you got any memories of what they have told you, or anything you did together? Maybe with your friends.
RR: I was, it was during this time I was going, my, my grandmother I also, also lived in the house with my mum and dad and my grandmother. My grandmother had a, had another daughter living with us. My mum’s sister who was who was a spinster. And she, whilst my mother was working and dad was working my auntie, Auntie Lou used to take me to school and so on when I was young and so on. She, she used to attend the Holy Trinity Church two doors, two doors away. I, I was encouraged to go with her so I attended Holy Trinity Church. I joined the choir. A lot of the local boys were in the choir. We had an extremely good vicar, Father Hopkins who, he was also the local Scout Master and I was in the 29th Woolwich Scouts through the war at that time and also in the choir. I was confirmed. I think twelve was the age of confirmation. I was confirmed by the Bishop of Woolwich in a church on Plumstead Common. I forget the name but, and then I became a server there and we used to go to services during the Blitz and particularly on Sundays during the day the 11 o’clock Communion service. And if there was a warning we used to go in the crypt. We used to shelter in the crypt. And Father Hopkins was the Scout master and he used to, we used to go off and very, of course Holy Trinity Church is adjacent to Gilbert’s Pit. Now, Gilbert’s Pit was a sand pit that overlooked the Woolwich Road and it was used, it was, it was sand obviously and the sand that was used by the United Glass Bottles Factory in Anchor and Hope Lane. And they initially got all their sand from this because it was Thames sand I suppose. And there was this big open pit and it rose up, a big hole in the middle that lorries used to go in and out. But during the war we used to play on the, not the pit itself but on the outskirts of the pit that was adjacent to the church and we used to have our Scout’s, Scout meetings there and meet other troops and do all sorts of things in the side of this sandpit. That was again was something that took our time during the day. Just thought about that.
[recording paused]
AC: So there’s a couple of more bits you want to tell me about.
RR: Yes. It’s just occurred to me that I mentioned that my dad was a fire watcher. He, along with groups of other man helped the air raid wardens and the people that were the official officials as it were. And these men just went out and reported to the warden’s post and they were directed to either pop sandbags on incendiary bombs that had fallen or go and help out. But there was one particular occasion when an incendiary bomb fell on the church. The church had a short spire on it. The fire brigade attended and if you think of a church the church goes up in steps. So you have the building and then you have the two aisles at the side with the church with a roof and then you have another piece of walling that goes up towards the roof and then on top of the roof is the spire. So you’ve got several steps if you like. Very big steps of course to get up to the spire. The fire brigade came along and attempted to get up on this spire because the incendiary bomb was lodged in the spire and it was setting the spire alight. They ran out of ladders. We, I’ve told you about doors being blown off and windows being out. We rented. My mum rented this property and the owner sent, or the agent sent contractors along to repair our house and their ladders were left outside our house. So they came along to our house, number 594 and took the ladders that belonged to the contractor to supplement their ladders so that they could try and reach the spire. They got up to the, over the first sloping roof up to the wall where the windows of the church below the roof were and then they had to get again on to another slope. And the firemen said it was too dangerous. So the story went. So the story went, and of course the pubs always stayed open, licensing hours didn’t exist in those days. If the boys were out putting out fires well, if they wanted to go in for a pint or whatever they got it. Well, it so happened that my dad was with a couple of blokes and they were in the pub having a drink and they came in and they said the church is alight but the fire brigade said it was too dangerous. So they all had, these guys all had steel helmets, dad had a steel helmet. It was grey, I remember. And he said, ‘Guys, we could get up there all right.’ So my dad actually got up there, right on to the roof and put the fire out. And of course as he was going up he told me afterwards that as he was going up the roof of the church the slates on the roof were coming off and he put his head, his hat down and his steel helmet and they were hitting his steel helmet as he went up. But he did get up there and he put the fire out. That’s one thing I remember. What else? Anything else?
AC: Finding any —
RR: Prompting me brings me all sorts of memories.
AC: What about finding any bits of aircraft or ammunition or —
RR: Oh yeah. Yeah. That was, that was something that we did as boys. Peter, Peter Hills who was my friend who was the licensee’s son in the Horse and Groom and I and another chap Leslie Denton who also lived further along the Woolwich Road about five doors from the church. We all went. We were all choir boys in the church and we used to go out and go in to Maryon Wilson Park. And of course there after the, after the night of shells being fired up and so on there were lots of bits of shrapnel that were left in the park. In the grass between the trees and we used to go out and pick them up and see who had the biggest bit and so. They were a bit nasty. You could cut your fingers on them quite extensively. But yeah that was, that was a pastime particularly at that heavy stage when we were being bombed. Yeah. You’re right, it’s we used to Maryon, never used to go to Maryon Park which was a park that was opposite Maryon Park School on the main road and then ran through because, I don’t know if you know the area but you got Maryon Park, and then you got, you got up the road and you got to Maryon Wilson Park which then runs up to Charlton Village. Maryon Park during the war of course was very flat because it was down, down by the river. It had a lovely putting green that we used to play putting. Thruppence a go. And we got our putting stick from the park keeper and our score card. And we used to do that on Sunday afternoons. And later on in the war they built a shelter in the park. There were tennis courts there as well. Built a shelter in the park. But another thing that used to happen later on in the war when the raids were less frequent they had dances around the band stand. So they had a band in the band stand and everybody congregated. Came in to the park and they used to have their dances and so on. So that was another thing that has come to memory.
AC: So, you, you just want to tell me about the coincidence concerning your Rose’s birthday and your cousin’s.
RR: Yes. Rose was, Rose, Richard’s mum was born on the 20th of February 1890 and it’s curious that Dick was born on the 20th of February [pause] I can remember. 20th of February 1921. And he was lost on the 21st of February 1945. And it strikes me as being very coincidental that those, that that date of the 20th of February seemed ominous for that, for that family. Quite unusual. Just something that came to me when I was going through looking at Dick’s parents. Strange.
AC: Indeed. Well that’s, thank you very much for that. It’s painted a vivid picture and thank you for your memories.
RR: Good. Well, thank you.
[recording paused]
AC: Right. I think you wanted to tell me about your police box.
RR: Right. Yes. If I can just paint the picture of this police box and where it stood. On the corner of, on the corner of Charlton Lane and Woolwich Road there was this public house I’ve mentioned called the Horse and Groom. Next to the Horse and Groom travelling towards Greenwich there was, there was a sweet shop and there was a barber’s shop and then there were the, there were some houses and I was in the second house from the sweet shop so, from the barber’s shop. Jimmy [unclear] Barber’s Shop it was. He had two daughters. Anyway, going on from there the police, the police box was continually manned during this time and it was, this one was continually manned because we had a siren located next to it. So, the siren of course stood on this very tall cylindrical piece of metal that was, went way above the houses with the siren on the top. And because it was continually manned we usually had the same policeman. There were exceptions but, and that policeman was Mr Ashdown, and a very pleasant man and I can see him now. Round face, white moustache and he was very friendly. And outside, and to protect the police box from bomb blasts and so on and it had a blast wall outside the door. And I remember quite distinctly we got quite friendly with the policeman. All the locals did. He got cups of tea and all sorts. And he opened his door his day and showed me how the siren worked. And from memory it was like a box on the wall and it had three sections in colours. It had a red section, a white section in the middle and a green section on the other side. And he got a message. When he got a message that the warning was imminent he had to sound this siren. And he just pulled the, pushed the lever over to the left, into the red section and this siren went off. Now, we’ve all heard what sounds siren sound like from all the films we’ve heard and it’s a wail. But the volume when you’ve got a siren about six feet from the house and we’re two doors away was quite something because everything in the house shook with the sound, with the vibration. Windows and anything that was loose, bits on the table would jump up and down and it was, it was quite an effort. Quite an effort. And of course when the all clear went Mr Ashdown would put the thing over to green and we would get the continuous wail of all clear and again we all shook to death.
AC: You can hear it now.
RR: I can indeed. And I can see Mr Ashdown now too. It’s amazing how many of those faces that even though what, I was ten, eleven going on, still remembering. And I remember him because he was, he was his family and my father was, my mother and father spent a lot of time in the Working Men’s Club which was only about a hundred and fifty yards further on. The Charlton Liberal Club. And I know Mr Ashdown and his family used to come along at weekends on occasions. There used to be dances going on. This was all during the war. A dance would go on or a concert on a Sunday evening. But later on that had to cease. The Concert Hall was converted into a storage area for bombed out people’s furniture and lo and behold a bomb fell on the back of the Concert Hall on the edge of the railway because the railway line from Charlton Station through to the level crossing at Charlton through to Woolwich arsenal the bomb fell at the side of the railway and on the end of the Concert Hall. And it so happened because the Concert Hall was full of people’s furniture, bombed out furniture the people in the club because the Concert Hall ran from the club itself where the bar was and the snooker table, and so on. Because of all that furniture it took a lot of the blast away and the people in there were lucky because they, they got away very lightly. There were no casualties.
AC: Good.


Andrew Cowley, “Interview with Ronald Roffey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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