Interview with Eric Clarke


Interview with Eric Clarke


Eric was born in Doncaster and had a difficult childhood. He was attracted by nearby RAF Finningley and decided he wanted to join the RAF when war was imminent. He was registered as an aircraftman second class and trained to be a wireless operator. After training in Blackpool, he did wireless operator training at RAF Yatesbury before going to an Operational Training Unit in Oxfordshire. Eric was then posted to RAF Finningley and 49 Squadron at RAF Scampton.
Eric’s first operation was in October 1941 to Hüls (Krefeld) and Bremen. He did twenty six operations on three different types of aircraft: Hampdens, Manchesters, and Lancasters. He preferred the Lancaster because he had much more space. He was stood down on the “Channel Dash” operation: the wireless operator borrowed his flying boots but never returned.
Eric became a senior signals leader and, after the tour, qualified as staff Pathfinder. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1944 and became a staff lecturer at No. 1 Bomber Command Instructors School at RAF Finningley. Eric was commissioned as a pilot officer and then flying officer.




Temporal Coverage




01:51:27 audio recording


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AM: Eric, it’s lovely to see you this morning and as you know I want to talk to you on behalf of the Bomber Command, International Bomber Command Memorial Centre. My name’s Annie Moody. We’ve met before lots of times and I’m interviewing Eric where he lives at Carcroft and it’s Monday the 17th of August 2015. So, Eric where shall we start? Can we start by, just tell me a little bit about where you were born and your childhood?
EC: It so happens the first article I did was in the days of, not computer, typewriters.
AM: Yes.
EC: Typewriters. Not a computer. And used to get a sheet of foolscap and my little portable typewriter and I am doing now and then I started. My father died when I was only eight. Now, that is the first line, first page of the article that I have done in recent years and since the impact of the computer. Are you alright so far?
AM: Alright so far. So your dad, your father, died when you were eight.
EC: Yeah. Right, well, that’s interesting. Where was I born? I was born here and here I am.
AM: In Doncaster. In Carcroft.
EC: Go on.
AM: Were you born in Carcroft?
EC: Go on.
AM: Doncaster.
EC: You’ve got a main road called Owston Road. Did you go to the top of the hill? Well, anyway this building is on the edge of a fairly large, which was for a long time, a colliery housing estate built by the, at that time it was, all around here there’s bore holes of some sort. Here, top of the hill, woodlands when you come to the woodlands and eventually they got one bore hole about three, four hundred yards along the lane and there was still a little water in a hollow like that and then the bottom of the hollow where they dug and they left it and over the years it’s been, it’s been called Witches Hollow and all sorts of things. Of course it’s the coaching lane as you go out and you wind around and it goes a little hollow like that and at the bottom of the well, or what do you call it? What’s the –
AM: Yeah. The well -
EC: Well.
AM: The well.
EC: And then down to the main [Aspen?] Road. The A15. Now, this is where I [] looking at the wall, my documentation, you know.
AM: Don’t worry about it. Where did you go to school, Eric?
EC: Here. Let me -
AM: Go on.
EC: Explain my birth ‘cause that’s important. Where we are, oh dear, just give me a minute. Anyway, the Owston Road which is the edge of the colliery housing estate.
AM: Right.
EC: And this Owston Road and then then there’s [Dereham New Street]. Colliery housing goes from two [102 all back?] then the next street, the last one on the estate is Paxton Avenue. That, coming down lower down [used to be] Carcroft, where the post office is. The shops have been developed and I was born and [black jack?] blamed this, it’s something to do with being a hundred and two. I’ve jumped a few years.
AM: Don’t worry.
EC: It’s important. Let me get it properly.
AM: It’s all good stuff.
EC: Right. I wasn’t born here but I lived here ten years old. So, we’ll start from there. I was born at another colliery estate only two miles down the road. Bentley Colliery. It has a history because of an explosion with thirty one killed over the years. Now, a private, a Nottingham, a Nottingham private colliery company called Barber Walker and Company sank a deep mine. They came from Nottingham where they had several mines but they were shallow mines. They came to South Yorkshire for the deep coal mines and my, I’ve got to go back to my father and mother are both Nottingham bred but first of all to my father, see I’ve made a chart that big with the whole family.
AM: With the family, a family tree on it.
EC: Yes. Chart. Oh yes it is my family tree. Well, I’m going back to 1730 and my ancestors, male ancestors all or most of them worked on the land in Chicheley Hall. Have you heard of that?
AM: Chicheley Hall. Yes I have.
EC: A very famous house and one reputation is that he was Lord Admiral on that. Admiral Lord Beatty. Admiral Lord Beatty.
AM: Admiral Lord Beatty.
EC: A famous World War One man. Now he had Chicheley Hall and a massive estate and all my ancestors either worked on the land or in the big house itself. The Hall. From footmen and so on. Right. And the women also on the land and the usual agricultural workers of those days. Right. We’re trying to get along quicker. A little more quickly. In the early 1800s they started a migration north to Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire and finally they came to Nottingham where women went in these factories as part of the, what do you call it the –
AM: Industrialisation.
EC: You can go to the top of the class on Monday. You’re a knockout.
AM: Thank you.
EC: Yes, and my father’s, I think he was a land man anyway but there is one man who didn’t migrate to Nottingham and he was in the army in World War One and got a military medal and he’s buried somewhere in [Chicheley?] Abbey and he’s there again and I built up this -
AM: Your family tree.
EC: They, there was no computer and there were no, I had to do all this on those –
AM: Right.
EC: [I have brochures on this] why I mentioned the estate Carcroft here. That’s where I spent the first ten years of my life. Well my mother and father migrated to South Yorkshire and my father went to Bentley Colliery and we occupied a colliery house. 75 Balfour Road, Bentley. Yeah. I was born there on the 13th of April 1913. Am I reading it right?
AM: Yeah. Yes. You’re a hundred and two so 1913.
EC: [Three weeks’ time.]
AM: Where did you go to school Eric?
EC: Here.
AM: In –
EC: At [?]. My father died when I was only eight. I shall have to move on quicker. It’s taking all this time to explain the first sentence.
AM: That’s ok.
EC: I’m being critical again you know.
AM: It sets the context Eric.
EC: I had a brother three years older than me and he said I was a prickly little sod [laughs] There you go.
AM: When, how old were you when you left school?
EC: Ten.
AM: You were ten.
EC: Ten. Right that’s why this story is a bit difficult.
AM: Right.
EC: The next, my father died. He was only thirty one. He had cancer and he was riddled and in those days there was no pension. No money, no support and you died with what you put in your pockets and all my mother’s family on my mother’s side, it was big family, about five six brothers. However they migrated with Barber Walker Company, brought all the miners to Bentley and Carcroft [?] and as I was born at 75 Balfour Road. Then, as I was born my mother became pregnant again quite quickly and we had, I had a sister, Freda born August 22nd 1914 and this house was only two bedroom, so, and my mother, the roving type anyway she, in no time at all we got a private house on the A15 only two miles from here and he went, carried on and from that moment from that moment of moving I gather my father started to go down and he didn’t go to work. He’d gone. Right, so no pension, no money, started looking around. My mother was very busy, hardworking, all the rest of it, ‘Take that shirt off,’ ‘cause, you know, she was you couldn’t move without her –
AM: Without her washing -
EC: Inspecting me. And Freda was born at the same house and then, as I was saying, there was no money. There was nothing. So the first thing my mother thought well I’ll get back to my roots and dad’s roots and get some help [from home] and start again. She started and stopped because my mother was very unsettled and [couldn’t be nice to anyone.] A hard working person anyway and she, this is rather strange right, she came back over here to start sorting things out she easily, she had a brother who had a motorbike and he fetched her to go to Nottingham and when she was there one time she bumped into [a former?], went on the back of the motorbike and in fact she was [only with him anyway] and it happened that she went to school in Nottingham.
AM: Is that the clock?
EC: It [?] now and again and gives you the right time but not the others.
AM: Ok. Just coming back to school, you said -
EC: Yes.
AM: You left school at ten years old.
EC: Yes. I’ll try to go on to that now. Sorry. She met this, on a trip to Nottingham she met, bumped into a [mate?] from the Nottinghamshire school she used to know. [He was ? anyway] 1914 and he was in her same plight. He was a widower and he’d got four children. Unfortunately, didn’t know then he got two who were backwards, which we called lack of learning. Two very bright children.
AM: Two not. Yeah.
EC: And my mother had got three. Anyway, they came together like, like here was a man who met all her needs. Never mind [how or what?]. He was a miner and so they married and in no time at all apparently they met [only?] two or three months she was there and she was pregnant and again in no time at all upped sticks and here we are. We got to this Bentley Colliery. [I’m trying to remember]
AM: Don’t worry ‘cause I want to get to where you left school and then what happened between then and joining the RAF.
EC: Right ok. They was married anyway and [a child on the] way and we came from Bentley and got married here. Bullcroft Colliery.
AM: Yeah.
EC: That’s the colliery for this area.
AM: Ok.
EC: Bullcroft.
AM: Yeah.
EC: It’s Barber Walker and Company. [pause] And I went to Carcroft School which was at the bottom of the street. One of them modern schools and it was opened the same year as my birth day. I was as old as the school and in fact I attended the anniv -
AM: Anniversary.
EC: Yes, and my name’s on a brass plate outside the school. So that was the start of the bit getting along Eric. Right, and then when I got to school –
AM: What did you do when you left, did you take your school certificate?
EC: Not in those days.
AM: No. What did you do when you left school then?
EC: Right. Right. I was at Carcroft school, they married, my mother and father were still having children and in no time at all from a family of four we, a family of nine.
AM: Nine.
EC: [?] on the chart the results show how it was and we moved here nineteen whatever, I think we moved here in 1910. We did the ordinary school. They did have, you sat for grammar school.
AM: Yes.
EC: And in those days my father who, well you can imagine the terrible family conditions. It was terrible. They never found Eric anywhere because he was crouching under the table in the bedroom upstairs out of the way. But I was doing well at school, quite bright, I can’t remember so much of it [?] skip this anyway. My father, my stepfather was violent. My mother was as violent and so you can imagine how they got on except have children and in no time at all they’d got five. Well, [?] in those days the bright boys in the class were selected to sit for the West Riding County Council for the grammar school at Doncaster.
AM: Ok
EC: Not Very big and there was only a few from this schools because this local government wise was under the administration of the West Riding County Council.
AM: Yes.
EC: And so to cut that story short there was violence and all sorts and I was always missing upstairs doing, trying to do homework of a sort and then the result of all that was that when I was fourteen oh I was chosen to sit for the [?] but my stepfather [?] in the examination, ‘We can’t afford to send you to grammar school,’ and that was -
AM: So you didn’t get to go.
EC: I didn’t go and I was fourteen and on about the 10th of May, something like that I got a bike in those days and it’s from the house to the office in Doncaster. Coming up to fourteen my mother said, ‘You’re not going down the pit. Here write the application for that job, office boy in Doncaster.’ ‘Yes mum.’ Right. I started working in Doncaster as a fourteen year old boy with ten shillings a week.
AM: Ten shillings.
EC: Ten shillings a week and it so happened that it was a family firm. A World War One family but it was a man with five sons. So I started there. I mentioned the five sons because there was no hope of –
AM: Progression.
EC: Reaching forward but at the same time there was no time [for boys going to] grammar school. So I was there plodding away at this and couldn’t get up the ladder and in a way that was [?] office boy, rent collector, all sort of duties [I had a knowledge of] Doncaster because I was visiting solicitors and so forth all at close knit city centre and my firm had dealings with them all.
AM: Yeah.
EC: I was [giving out] ten to thirty letters delivering around town. Anyway, there was no real progression except the ordinary one. Ten shillings a week. One year I got twelve and six. One year I got fifteen. And progress there and I jumped to it and that was all I did from leaving school was work at Ernest Woodman and Sons, 15 Young Street, Doncaster.
AM: Ok.
EC: And very well experienced in Doncaster. Legal, which attracted me. Legal World. Solicitors.
AM: Yes.
EC: Accountants and two other debt collectors. Well you can imagine what the debt collectors were like immediately after the war.
AM: Ahum.
EC: And 1926 strike and so here we go. My mother, hot tempered, she got, she tried to get me away from my stepfather. I was a thorn in his side somehow. I think it was because his children were not as bright as my mother’s so, hang on a second. Hang on.
AM: Do you want me to switch it off? Ok.
EC: This article that you’ve seen, it’s a bit if what I’m doing at the moment. Can you help?
AM: But they want to hear your voice. That’s the thing. We want your voice telling us.
EC: And what a voice at this moment.
AM: Absolutely. So you’ve worked in Doncaster.
EC: Yes.
AM: And you’ve worked there for a number of years
[sound of knocking on the door]
AM: Oh hang on.
[machine pause?]
EC: My mother was always moving on and the family bigger house, bigger house, family, bigger house. Job’s no good to you. Leave the job. Anyway, so we went from Bullcroft Colliery and then the family was enlarging and the house was not big enough for the family. Looking around and we finished up at Woodlands on the Great North Road.
AM: Ok.
EC: Have you been there?
AM: No. I don’t know it.
EC: Well it’s the A1 M.
AM: Yes.
EC: The end A1 M [came our?] house. We moved out, we finished up, finally we moved to Woodlands of course from the age of ten to forty, not forty.
AM: Fourteen.
EC: 1940.
AM: Oh right 1940.
EC: We finished up at Woodlands in a four or five roomed house and got transferred to Brodsworth Colliery because he was cricketer, first class and of course the collieries if you played cricket up there with the nobs you got a job and that’s how it worked. You got a job but it so happens he was lazy and they were clashing all the time and the eldest of this family of ten or more was my brother George and he was similar. He was like [our mother?] and he actually, the two of them fought and knocking the living daylights out of each other and then there was another move and we finished up at Woodland. Did you come by The Highwayman?
AM: I can’t remember.
EC: Come by it at the bottom.
AM: Oh yes. Yes.
EC: Yes. Well the council houses on [the edge of the next] street right down there tacked on to the Brodsworth, so we got to this, how can I put it [pause] well I was, because I was think, I was a good scholar I think and I, with reading and so on and my teacher got me to stand up in class and read right and there was something about wanting to speak because my teacher was a World War One veteran, a tank captain and a captain of a tank as well as a captain by rank. Yeah.
AM: Right.
EC: And I remember once I wanted to do it, do things apparently I was good at. I could stand up, speak well and the boys you know were deep in dialect. I wasn’t. I was avoiding it like the plague. Even at that age. I don’t know why. And –
AM: You’ve told me about working for that family firm.
EC: Yes.
AM: And you’ve told me about doing the debt collecting. What if we move on a little bit what, how did you come to join the RAF?
EC: Well, before then I I married the first girl who winked at me and only had the one girlfriend and we were married seventy years anyway.
AM: You were.
EC: So your question again was?
AM: So you’ve started work and you’ve got married. What made you, when we get to -
EC: Right.
AM: The beginning of the war what made you join the RAF?
EC: Right. That’s, that’s answered as well, in the book, quite clearly. When we were younger, the 1930s, so on early mid-30s, Finningley became an RAF aerodrome and we, I was going around town and so on I was so used to seeing the Hampdens and the earlier ones and also my ten years to fourteen years was a period of being with the family. I liked to go back home at that age I couldn’t stay away and my mum wanted my money.
AM: Yeah.
EC: Only ten bob.
AM: Yeah.
EC: So I decided, I became very interested and my mother said, ‘better not going down the mine.’
AM: That’s not going down the pit.
EC: Not going down the pit and so on and so on and it was that really and my associate in Doncaster, the people. My squadron for instance, 49 squadron were at Finningley.
AM: They were at Finningley.
EC: Finningley.
AM: But can you, can you remember when you actually went to join up and then what the training was like? What year did you join up, Eric?
EC: I joined up, well that, [I’m not sure about] this really, war was imminent.
AM: Yeah.
EC: We all knew that and all knew, some were joining up you know and getting out of the mines.
AM: Yeah.
EC: Some of the younger ones. However, I wanted to, I decided I’m going to fly. That’s all.
AM: Yeah.
EC: Except I’d seen the boys in blue in Doncaster going into the offices, getting, bringing their wives and getting accommodation and all that and it very gradually became a big RAF station and it also became an Operational Training Unit. Operational Training Unit.
AM: Yes.
EC: And then a small squadron moved in and an awful lot of [? moved in]. In 1939 war was declared and there were Whitley’s which were different, a twin engine bomber.
AM: Yeah.
EC: And Hampdens. Twin engine medium bomber sort of thing. Anyway, I got my brother to take me on his motorbike pillion and, to Sheffield which was a local recruiting office for the whole of South Yorkshire really and I went through the routine and passed one way or another although I did have some ear trouble but nothing to worry about and I was, I wanted to be a navigator. I knew damn all about navigation except I’d become interested in it in my classroom with this captain.
AM: So were you accepted as a navigator?
EC: No. No.
AM: No.
EC: That was it because I hadn’t got a school certificate as you say. I didn’t take it and I hadn’t got it so there was no way. They did not employ grammar school, only grammar school boys at least got in to the navigation.
AM: Ok.
EC: But they offered me wireless operator/navigator and I, yes, yes now we’re in. So I went through the various routines and I get the call and reported, report to Sheffield for a medical examination for air crew. [?] air crew. However, [pause] then they sent me, they said that they would send me home with papers. I was accepted and registered as aircraftsman second class. I was in the air force. And that would be August [1913 the year war] and I went back, back home and I went back to my job and got a shock because I’d already asked my firm could I, is it alright if I, and I showed them the invitation. Medical and so on so yeah but when I got back which was more or less a weeks leave I went back to [primarily] carry on working until I was called, I got a shock. They’d set on somebody in my place who, I understood, I didn’t know it at the time but I was told was exempt.
AM: Ok.
EC: So he could do the job I’d been doing and that was the way it was so I was sent home and that happened twice. I was called up. Anyway, I met a local council not many hours away from here, not now, I met him, he was the treasurer, the chairman of the Labour party’s son. Talking about nineteen and he’d become exempt because he was, he’d qualified, not quite as an accountant.
AM: Right.
EC: But in no time at all war was declared and he was treasurer of the council. Right then, he said ‘What are you doing?’ And I explained briefly and, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We’re setting on some temporary staff here and if you’re interested you know the district, you know everything and everybody about us more or less so I got a fortnight’s and it so happens I was working then two shilling a week lower than I was paid earlier.
AM: But at Doncaster council. At the council.
EC: No.
AM: No.
EC: No. Oh Adwick.
AM: Oh.
EC: I was, Adwick le Street Urban District Council.
AM: Right.
EC: On April 1st 1915 Adwick, Adwick Council became an urban district.
AM: Right. So you worked for your local urban district council.
EC: So I moved my first, into local government, again its charted and that. Yeah, so from April the 1st 1915 it was an urban district council and [sent to work and it was?] in those days.
AM: Right.
EC: [And often the?] rent collection and so on their offices and all graded and whatnot. [Presumably]
AM: So, so you worked there and then, and then at point did you get your call up to go for training?
EC: Yes. I suddenly got papers through and the call and I had to go to Padgate which was near Warrington. And it was RAF centre of sorts for World War Two and I was issued with a uniform and then blow me they lined up the squadrons, everybody going to the squadrons in there and incidentally I was duly qualified. I had taken to that so I know that. Anyway, the next thing you know and they gave me a railway warrant home. Said you’ll be called by an RAF unit as soon as you’re employable. So I’m back home.
AM: Back home again.
EC: And I went back to [Wolf Lane] the treasurer of the council then and suggested we were doing emergency war measures which meant visiting the council houses, various establishments in the urban district which I knew, you know. I knew every yard. Anyway, that eventually I got the actual call up and again I had to go to Padgate. I think it was there. I’m not sure. And we were lined up one morning and half of us were given railway warrants and we went to Blackpool and I was in the Royal Air Force. Air crew. Now, we should have gone on entering the RAF to an ITW, Initial Training Wing that’s where they [?] speaking get you off the street. Put your feet together, angled at forty five degrees and all that.
AM: And start marching.
EC: From scratch. But not me because I’d already become [duly conscious.] It’s all this detail. Lovely detail really and with one other chappie went to Sheffield and there was procedures and from there I was posted, forgotten that little bit there, where was it? Operational Training Unit.
AM: Up to an Operational Training Unit.
EC: Yes. How we got there I don’t know.
AM: Don’t worry. So what was that like?
EC: Anyway, I went straight on to the, oh what was it? Chipping Norton down south OTUs and there was one there, south of Oxford. Its three letter anyway [pause] anyway I did all the basics ITU and aircrew and posting again home again I think two or three days. Then posted. I went to, about a dozen of us were posted to Scampton and you know all about that.
AM: I do.
EC: I served fourteen months there. At a time when, [you don’t mind] I went straight on to the squadron and then it’s all in the book.
AM: Ok.
EC: All in the logbook.
AM: So you joined 49 squadron. Can you remember crewing up and joining up with the rest of your crew. With your pilot and -
EC: No. I didn’t get that far.
AM: Oh right.
EC: What happened was the ITU and Blackpool were just doing nothing but training. Some people didn’t need training. Straight to squadron or something and I did fly in the ITU on the, [pause] from Blackpool we went by troop train in dead of night because of an air raid. From Blackpool down to Wales down to Bristol where we were in the [?] and everything, no rations, no nothing, six seats a side, no gangway, no nothing and then in the morning we arrived at Yatesbury. That’s on the Bath Road.
AM: Yes.
EC: And that’s where the real work starts. We were just another, well it seemed like there was only a couple of hundred of us but it wasn’t. Not quite that. Very nearly, and that was a first and basic training for air crew. Now in our case that area as big as this was aircraft navigation, no that was further on I think. That unit concentrated on training navigators. Yatesbury was wireless and basics. Pilots, they did their training as pilots and then we started getting together as as crews but not necessarily staying together.
AM: Right.
EC: But putting you, you, you, right, ‘Take M for Mother on a trip, test,’ so on and that was it at any stage a lot of flying. The book tells it all. Have you’ve seen it?
AM: No. I’ll have a look at your logbook afterwards if I may.
EC: You might, well, I’m looking, my son, he used to be a manager, he left and in recent you see I’ve all this is, damaged the brain. You know that. It’s the damage in my brain and that’s why my memory’s gone so I have two brains. One apparently and mainly is normal.
AM: Yes.
EC: But -
AM: You’re doing well Eric.
EC: Yeah. But the other one, anytime soon it will break and I’m in another, the thing was but it’s not permanent.
AM: So, what, what was the wireless operator training like?
EC: Well that was rather intense but first of all it was mainly one track mind. We had to reach, we were, we’d taken over all the ballroom and the big, ballroom, Blackpool front you know, the tower and all the rest of it. Dance halls. There were all tables wired up for blokes. Six in groups of fifty with an acting corporal, a regular corporal, been in the air force since the year dot apparently and then we were two hours [?] and you can imagine it was all regimented at that stage.
AM: Yeah.
EC: You only breathe out when you’re allowed. So that’s it. Right. Test please and you were at trestle tables. Lines of them. Oh and incidentally we had been billeted in Blackpool and all that sort of thing.
AM: Can I stop you for a minute? Do you want -
EC: Yes.
AM: Do you want this tea?
EC: Back to Carcroft School I always remember this captain in the army and tank captain survivor. It on poetry and he got me speaking and reading. ‘Clarke.’ And I’d stand up with my book. Point at it and read. All that sort of thing. And World War One disciplines.
AM: Yes. I’m going to take you back to Yatesbury rather than back to your school. Tell me some more about Yatesbury.
EC: Yatesbury. Yes of course. All we saw were [?] and it was 13th of October.
AM: It’s alright I’m just making sure your tea doesn’t slip.
EC: 13th of October. [?] it’s there.
AM: Tell me a little bit more about Yatesbury.
EC: Oh yes. Yatesbury. We had two, two solid weeks, two solid hours of Morse and our instructor was a retired navy wireless operator.
AM: Ok.
EC: And some people used to say you couldn’t think of anything worse but he was quiet but he was used to, used to thirty words a minute but we got to achieve, we’d never studied Morse. What’s Morse? We were dumb.
AM: Yeah, all new to you.
EC: Yes. What they did people precisely volunteered and in some cases allocated. Even they wanted to go. Like me. I wanted to go so after two hours there was a break and then the acting corporal, the corporal marched out and this is where the journal comes in. Quite a few holiday makers there were in Blackpool at the time saw some smart click click of the air force drill shouting and bawling. 3B3 3 squadron and three wing three squadron and three company and, ‘Clarke,’ ‘928 flight sergeant,’ You caught your last three figures. Mine was 1051928 and you got it’s flight sergeant 928, ‘Take your squad to the park,’ [?] and then we had report back to that certain area in that certain place for the next, which could have been anything from PT, stripping off, in to the baths. I loved that. The baths. I was in charge marching and bathing. Morse. Right up through, ‘Straight through, straight, halt. Stand. Right, space out, space, spread yourselves out. Right. Strip. Get in there. Get in.’
AM: Is this public baths?
EC: Yes.
AM: Yes
EC: And that’s what we did. I’d been delegated to look after them as an acting corporal unpaid and because I had to get out to get them on the go again. Report elsewhere. It might be report to a certain park where the RAF had a PTI, Physical Training Instructor and we had two hours with him. Not at it all the time but some duty other than we had the first two hours get back to Morse at the tower and that was the front. Four times in two hours PTI, break two hours, back. That’s it. Back to Morse again. And to that march left right left right left right all around Blackpool there before this just as an introduction, more or less, to what navigation means?
AM: Yes.
EC: Charts. Do charts and things we’d got. I imagined myself working on a chart.
AM: Yeah. I’m going to let you drink a bit more of your tea.
EC: Yes and then it was high tech training now. How, what wireless sets are made of, you know. We were really into it all. That’s that, that and that but why? It’s there and we [?] Incidentally by the time I got into Blackpool I was twenty six and I was probably standing next to –
AM: An eighteen year old.
EC: An eighteen year old boy who was well away.
AM: You were one of the old men.
EC: I was. I don’t know why but that’s another story.
AM: When did you first go up in and fly in a plane?
EC: Well, at Yatesbury we again this is where the logbook would have come in. From Yatesbury we were warned, six of us, right, at the airfield and we’re going with this sergeant. He takes you. He took six of us out to the airfield. He was doing an exercises anyway. We knew we were going up in the air and we were going to call Blackpool radio station.
AM: Yeah.
EC: And you’re going to make contact and back, and then back to the classroom. See how well we’d done. So it was at Yatesbury and it was probably an hour and a half. We went up in this six seater passenger aircraft and with a sergeant, he’d been in the air force years and he was a technician. So that’s when we first flew. I didn’t fly again then until Finningley and this is again is where the drag occurred and interfered. When final at Yatesbury which had a nasty name did Yatesbury. You know the name given to prisoners you had a bad reputation because it was psych training you know. You couldn’t breathe. Anyway, we were picked out and were queuing up were [all between] get our inoculations and then the next time is railway warrants which are, we two going to the same place. I got used to him. Mahoney. [Finished up?]
AM: How, when did you, after that you went to Finningley. Where did go you after -
EC: Yes.
AM: Yatesbury?
EC: After Yatesbury railway warrants and we thought we were going home or not and we were for a week and then we reported to the squadron.
AM: The squadron. 49 squadron.
EC: 49 Squadron at, no. I jumped. This station south of, south of Oxford I’ve got a memory for stations as well. It’s one –
AM: I don’t know Eric. There’s no -
EC: No. Anyway -
AM: Gary would know but I don’t.
EC: It was an OTU, we were posted to OTU from then for the first time we became flying together.
AM: Right.
EC: Pilot, navigator, sometimes just wireless operator because at that time no aircraft could get airborne without a wireless operator.
AM: Yes.
EC: No RAF could get airborne without a wireless operator and then there were various exercises, flying exercises. In the early part the pilots were doing the circuits and bumps and you had to be, you had to have a wireless operator with him.
AM: What plane, what sort of aircraft were you in?
EC: That was, first time, that was Hampdens.
AM: Hampdens.
EC: Yeah. Ended up in, just a minute, just a minute, this is where, for once in a while I’m lost without my logbook. And we, I arrived at Finningley anyway. I was posted to Finningley.
AM: Yeah.
EC: And it was because I’d been posted but [they don’t know] so they posted me, ‘Where do you live flight sergeant?’ ‘Doncaster.’ ‘Ah right. Finningley.’ And it was Finningley because they couldn’t receive this, they were full up training you see and so I reported to 49 squadron. They were busy flying as an OTU.
AM: Yes.
EC: Operational Training Unit and I just went down to the airfield where there was a crew rooms and outbuildings in between, in between whatever flight programme was on and that, one day that might be navigators which meant pilot, pilot and navigator and wireless operator or it might in between a few circuits and bumps but we were, I was there to get me airborne. I had the temerity to complain. I’m sitting here doing nothing. Nothing to read. No book. No nothing. Anyway, he understood alright. That particular squadron leader eventually did very well right up in Bomber Command. Now then, now -
AM: I’m probably jumping now but when did you do your first operation?
EC: Right. October 13th.
AM: October -
EC: Two minutes past twelve. It was twelve, Midnight. Thirteenth.
AM: This was 1940.
EC: ’40.
AM: Yeah. What was that like Eric? Can you remember it? Well you can remember it.
EC: Yeah. Well I was there, I was there at Finningley and I had to jump a little bit there because this, the squadron commander he said you could do a few rides on the tin. Well the tin was the underside of a Hampden. Underneath -
AM: Right.
EC: You know, where the gun is? No wireless. Just straight, stuck the wireless operator on top with guns and he was a wireless operator on top of the aircraft. So I was there, for air experience. I was in this Hampden. I don’t know if I was doing those cross country and I was just sat in the cockpit and I was getting airborne and that was it. I was not impressed either. I was a little bit of a sergeant major myself I have to admit. A bit, ‘That won’t do.’ Anyway, and then then came the day that Chipping –
AM: Chipping Norton.
EC: No.
AM: Chipping Sudbury.
EC: Oh dear.
AM: No. Oh I don’t know.
EC: Oh I do. I can’t give it you. Ah yes. Oh I can point it to you. I’ve got the book there.
AM: Well never mind because what I want to hear about is your first operation.
EC: First operation. Yes. Well this book. It’s written there perfectly.
AM: Did you get bacon and eggs before you went?
EC: Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
EC: I can’t move without, I can’t.
AM: So your first operation was on the 12th and 13th of October 1941.
EC: That’s right.
AM: To Auls and Bremen. That’s A U L S and Bremen.
EC: Well, we, it’s all in that report but we actually bombed Huls. H.U.L.S.
AM: Yes, and that was the start of a full tour.
EC: Yeah.
AM: On three different kinds of aircraft.
EC: And they were all, all overcrowded and –
AM: You started off on Hampdens didn’t you?
EC: Yes. Yes.
AM: Let me have a look at the next one. Your next one after that was the 22nd and 23rd of October to Mannheim.
EC: Mann, yes.
AM: Yeah.
EC: And that’s in the, they called it Happy Valley.
AM: Yes. The Ruhr valley.
EC: Yes. That’s right. And here again I was at a loose end and not very happy. I was arriving at Scampton in a crew room and about half of them regulars. One or two were real regulars, went in before the war. [?] flight sergeant who was in before the war, wireless operator and he come to me or called me upstairs and say this is the flying programme and these two ops [that were ops have] just been scrubbed.
AM: Let me look at your -
EC: Now that was, I can’t see it.
AM: What did it actually feel like up in the aircraft Eric?
EC: Well again, mixed feelings. It was no picnic in that undercarriage. They called it the tin. Dreaded it. It was just a cockpit underneath the aircraft with twin Vickers gas operated guns on, like that and you could swing them around and you could strafe or [303?] and then behind me the bomb doors opened like that behind me to the front of the aircraft. Say from, you know, from there to there and they would open and I can’t, well it’s still a case of looking around. The weather we knew nothing about. It was just another aircraft on a training flight. I would listen out carefully. The pilots, mainly it was the pilot and navigator yeah that was the hardest job to do. I realise now.
AM: Yes. There’s another one highlighted here. The 9th and 10th of January to Brest. Mine laying.
EC: Oh yes. From October onwards it was still was the same. You were lucky to get a flight or if you did, in the tin to fill up and now –
AM: Let me look at the, - this is talking about the Bransby Memorial.
EC: Oh yes. And there again I became [this was a Hampden, not this particular one, [pause] there we are, we took off at dusk mainly. Sometimes it was later on and the whole of Scampton is set in the middle of vast farming areas and that’s so and we took off at dusk and it was all a nail-biting time you had to get up because the Hampden was loaded with mines or a particular type of bomb and otherwise it would carry mines and all I know is I sat there looking around and occasionally a tiny light, nothing else, could see the railways and [pause] sorry.
AM: Shall we find?
EC: The navigator was talking a lot -
AM: Yeah.
EC: About -
AM: I’m looking at another one here in February 1942. You went to Bremen, Bremen.
EC: Yes. Bremen.
AM: Bremen.
EC: Yeah. [Should be Berlin?] to military target. Heavily defended. And what I [?] the first one as we, two important things there did at least talk me to otherwise I might not have [?] right I’m looking for a crossing on the coast out crossing the channel there or from Orfordness there over there, that’s where we leave our coast. See. I was looking for that and that was, and then there’s a channel which is when the navigator and pilot had a lot to talk about, ‘Yes. Yes. No. No. Oh that’s –‘. A lot of them before they finally agreed on a, agreed on a course and then it was crossing the enemy coast. That for me was about the first time was really really not knowing what to expect. Anyway, I very soon found out what it was like as we were getting this crossing point, the enemy coast and suddenly searchlights, ackack, fire, aircraft, aircraft coming up, checking the height and the bombs are not just dropped you’ve got to drop from a certain height and then the navigator were the ones doing the talking, agreeing with the pilot on a certain in, ‘We could do with another thousand feet.’ ‘Yeah. I’ll try it.’ and we would, did it say what -
AM: Let me have a look at, let me find the next one. The Channel Dash that you -
EC: Yes. Now, that’s been reported many many times and it still is.
AM: Were you part of that Eric?
EC: Yes. Let me think. Channel Dash. Name the crew first.
AM: Let me have a look. I’m just trying to see if, with my flight. Oh someone, someone had your flying boots on.
EC: That’s right.
AM: Sergeant B Hunter.
EC: Hunter. Yes that’s the one. I think, however, I was in the tin I think. I can’t remember. Oh I do wish. That morning, I were all ready for call to get airborne and I was in the crew room and like, usually and some people knew the crew same as before and others, like me, I wasn’t sure where I’d be. I’d be called. You were given the pilot’s name. Anyway, oh come on, come on, come on. We were briefed. While we were waiting that morning the back room boys and so on they, everybody knew that the three German battleships were based at Brest.
AM: Yes.
EC: And there was the Scharnhorst and [Schweigen?] oh the name of it now, it will come.
AM: I can’t remember but I know that the Scharnhorst was one of the big ones.
EC: Yes. Yeah. [pause] I can’t remember.
AM: Why, why did Sergeant Hunter have your flying boots on?
EC: Oh yes. Yes, this is the story. Again, it’s in here in detail. We’re in the crew room. There’s lockers. Flying lockers. Your flying kit, if you’re not wearing it, should be in that locker. Right. I was, I got to the crew room. I saw the operations board. That’s the only time, sometimes that I found where I was -
AM: Where you were going?
EC: With whom and where we were going. Channel, Brest and I was with this, well Sergeant Hunter, he was spitting feathers for want of, I put the flying kit on to join this particular aircraft which was on the operations board. Next to me is Sergeant Hunter and he’d been on the squadron just a few months or more. A bit more experienced and he seemed a happy type. Now, he, he had left his flying boots at his billet. At that time we were in the old married quarters for, you know air crew and so on and against the rules, the rules flying clothing must be in the locker. Anyway. I’m scrubbed. Oh yes while and I was getting my stuff on and the door opened and Gadsby, Flight Sergeant Gadsby, ‘Sergeant Clarke, you’re scrubbed.’ I said, ‘Oh not again.’ And anyway to Hunter, ‘I’m scrubbed so you he might as well take mine.’ ‘Alright.’ He had no time to go back to the billet. He’d got to get there and out to the aircraft and so he did and I went back to the crew room and [have something to eat] play around till the next morning to see how they got on. Well the next morning I found that Sergeant Hunter’s aircraft and four others had not come back and my, obviously my boots were down. Well, later on Sergeant Hunter’s [?] body was washed up on the French shore two days later, the Dutch shore two days later. Oh and trying to move it on a little bit I’d been out to Holland two or three times [on the] memorial [to him] he was shot down anyway as he crossed the coast and it was a Hampden, low flying aircraft and they were already obviously, from the information there they were already they knew they were going down so the wireless operator in the tin came up and squeezed into the wireless operator’s -
AM: Yeah.
EC: Standing order that for take-off and landing the chap in the tin had to be up top squeezed in. So that’s what happened. They went down. Pilot and engineer went down with the aircraft on a Dutch farm and the wireless operator and gunner they were thrown out of the aircraft somehow and, but they went down with the aircraft into the mud and the Dutch -
AM: Yeah.
EC: So for sixty years that aircraft with two crew, pilot and navigator, and they recovered it anyway.
AM: It was recovered.
EC: That was a long story anyway but –
AM: So that was the story of your boots. Let’s have a look at some more.
EC: I’ve been since and they recovered the aircraft and gave them a military –
AM: A proper burial. A proper burial.
EC: And it’s all about it and everything in here and then I went back to the crew room waiting to see where next. Who I was going to fly with next.
AM: We’ve got the next one February mine laying and leaflets. Were you still on Hampdens or had you moved -
EC: No.
AM: To Manchesters at this point?
EC: All my, all my ops there were twelve on Hampdens, four on Manchesters and twelve on Lancasters.
AM: On Lancasters. Which was the best out of the three?
EC: Oh [laughs]
AM: Which one Eric? You’re pointing at it but I don’t know which it is.
EC: Oh well that’s a Hampden.
AM: That’s a Hampden.
EC: That’s a, it’s a Lancaster.
AM: Oh that one’s a Lancaster.
EC: And if that was a true photo, well it is, that would be up there.
AM: This one would be you.
EC: That was my position and I would be there.
AM: So did you like the Lancaster best out of the three?
EC: Ooh ooh above everything.
AM: Really. Why?
EC: Well first of all it was the space I’d got.
AM: Yes, you’re not down in the tin any more.
EC: In the tin. I was surrounded by wireless there and there.
AM: So you were just crunched up with your knees up to your nose nearly.
EC: Yeah [?] try to write something in the logbook and I’ve highlighted where I am in the crews.
AM: We’ve got, we’ve got the mine laying and leaflets and let me just have a look here. In March 1942, Essen.
EC: Yes.
AM: Were you on that one?
EC: Well am I marked? It gives you the -
AM: Essen. Yes. Clarke. There you are. Let’s have another, - hang on, [pause] in March ’42 again mine laying and nickels.
EC: Yeah. Don’t know. Now the thing is you want the logbook.
AM: Now don’t worry about, Lubeck. You went to Lubeck. In March.
EC: Lubeck. Lubeck. That’s in the South Baltic. That was a little [?] port all ancient but it was a military target used by the Germans for shipping so for us it was a, it was a target.
AM: A legitimate target.
EC: Yes. So we gave them a surprise. Went over the North Sea. Now –
AM: April ‘42 Cologne.
EC: Yes. [pause] Did we lose any?
AM: Let me have a look. Yes. A flight with Pilot Officer D Kay. Became a prisoner of war and the wireless operator and air gunner was killed. Sergeant Waddell. Sergeant Waddell.
EC: Sergeant Waddell, yes.
AM: Yeah.
EC: Yeah.
AM: I’m looking at the ones that you’ve highlighted.
EC: Yes.
AM: You’ve got April ‘42 was a noticeable date. From this date the unit received its first three Avro Manchesters.
EC: Yes. Now they phased out the Hampdens. Now this is where the flying logbook would have come in.
[Knocking on door]
AM: Oh just one minute. Knock at the door.
[machine paused]
EC: [?]
AM: No. Let’s, let’s, let’s move on a bit. When you got the Lancasters -
EC: Yeah.
AM: Where did you go in the Lancasters? Let me look.
EC: Oh we didn’t do any ops for a month.
AM: No.
EC: Because we had to, what was the trouble we had?
AM: Debrief from one plane and learned to fly another one.
EC: Yes. Yes.
AM: Yeah. Were you on the thousand bomber raid?
EC: Yes.
AM: To Cologne.
EC: Yes. That was May the 30th. Was it?
AM: Yeah. May, yes May 30th 1942.
EC: Yes and it had got six crew and it was more or less a Lancaster fuselage.
AM: Yeah.
EC: So I’d got all this room. I loved it. I’d got a desk and I could get up and I could stand, stand up and put my head in the astrodome and look at, you know, for targets and navigational points and then when we got the signal to, to drop the leaflets I, how can I [pause] I site there?
AM: Yeah we’re looking at a picture now of the -
EC: Wireless.
AM: Wireless operator.
EC: I’m back here. Behind my bomb there’s called the main spar of the aircraft.
AM: Yes.
EC: And I go along there, leg over there and I’m in the -
AM: The fuselage.
EC: The fuselage is it where I’d been like this I’d got all this space. So what the fuse, and the packets with the rubber bands and so on and I got on the intercom, connected by intercom by the pilot and navigator and they told me when, coming up they knew the height we were flying at and the instructions as to the best, well releasing the leaflets. There’s no bomb aiming facility as such but it’s something throwing out parcels so they went down in packets of thousands. Well we did that and we got back safely. Another?
AM: What about the thousand bomber raid?
EC: Yes that’s the last -
AM: Yeah. And then Essen in June 1942.
EC: June 1st. That was Flying Officer Jefferies.
AM: Yes.
EC: He became my pilot.
AM: Right.
EC: I knew I was flying with him but I’d done my ops and on the board I knew that I was flying with him. Now then. Pick one with Flying Officer Jefferies.
AM: It says here that over Essen you attacked from nine thousand feet at two minutes past two and bomb bursts were seen in the target area. Large fires started.
EC: Yeah.
AM: So you knew you’d hit the, hit what you, hit the target.
EC: Only four [Manchesters].
AM: Yeah. When did you move on to Lancasters? Can you, what month?
EC: What
AM: What month did you move on to Lancasters?
EC: We had a period of adjustment to another aircraft.
AM: Yes. Yeah.
EC: Does it say?
AM: Osnabruck. These are all August. Osnabruck.
EC: Osnabruck, yes.
AM: Flensburg and Frankfurt.
EC: Yeah.
AM: And then Zabrucken and Bremen.
EC: Which aircraft?
AM: Let me have a look. Let me look at the picture. I’m not sure. I think this might -
EC: The first Lancaster I remember of course was Flight Lieutenant Cook. Cookie as he was. You hear about this one. We, not much to say, we went to pick up an aircraft and we went to a station to pick up a Lancaster and that was our first Lancaster.
AM: Right.
EC: After that we got them all.
AM: You got, it’s talking here about mine laying in September and the Cooke crew of W4107.
EC: Yes.
AM: Attacked their primary target at Warnemunde
EC: Yeah.
AM: And then landed back at Scampton but four aircraft had to go, so Marston Moor and then we’ve got Weismar again.
EC: Yeah.
AM: And Cologne again in October.
EC: Cologne. It was the last of the four. I knew it was a massed operation but I didn’t know that it was the flight. I’d got several to do for my tour [part of that?] [pause] What does it say?
AM: I’ve got another one here where, here we are at about 2130 on the evening of 24th of October.
EC: Yeah.
AM: After W4761 got back to her Scampton dispersal out jumped Eric Clarke the W/Op air gunner to celebrate the completion of his operational tour.
EC: Now where were, where had we landed?
AM: You landed at Scampton.
EC: No.
AM: Oh wait a minute. Let me look.
EC: The day before.
AM: I’m not sure.
EC: I’ll look at it in there.
AM: But you did twenty six operations.
EC: Yes. We landed short of petrol.
AM: Right.
EC: Back at the place where I did all my OTU.
AM: Right.
EC: South of Oxford.
AM: Right.
EC: See. And then next day, in the morning, we got airborne to Scampton.
AM: Back to Scampton.
EC: I’ll show you anyway and you’ll appreciate the details there.
AM: When you finished Eric, when you’d done, when you’d done your last operation what did you do after that?
EC: Right. Well, I’m now, I’d got quite a bit of leave, but I’ve no job, I’m married to a wonderful, and my wife was working all the time. She worked in a paper shop, newsagent shop and with close family and for instance the owners always had the news agent shop and he used to have to be up at five in the morning. It was very very good for them [?] and that was the same one –
AM: Can I just look at the front of this where it’s saying that you became a signals officer?
EC: Oh yes. That’s right.
AM: And a senior signals leader.
EC: Yes. That’s it. Well when I finished the, got back safely and landed at Scampton and then we carried on ops to finish my tour. We were all together and we qualified as staff Pathfinders.
AM: Yes.
EC: We were a special crew. We were good.
AM: Yeah. Let me just look at the front again. You were commissioned and then you rose quickly in rank to flight lieutenant.
EC: Yeah.
AM: Became a signals officer and then a senior signals leader.
EC: Yeah.
AM: You were mentioned in dispatches in June 1944.
EC: Yeah.
AM: That’s when the war -
AM: Yes. And then finally you became a staff lecturer at the number one Bomber Command Instructor’s School.
EC: At Finningley.
AM: At Finningley.
EC: Yes.
AM: Back where you started.
EC: Yes. But again things weren’t always going right. I can finish that part off. I did, I was called for ops back at Scampton after the Cologne raid and we were briefed to go to [?] Stettin to submarines out there, in the Baltic rather. The Baltic. And to cut that short I was briefed twice to do an op and they were both scrubbed.
AM: And that was to Stettin.
EC: Stettin. Yes.
AM: Yes. Yeah.
EC: And it was for mine laying.
AM: Right.
EC: It was a base. A German base. Anyway, it was a stealth, we called it a stealth raid. Right. We got back and expected to go on the next trip, we’ll be on tomorrow night. Ok. And tomorrow night came and I wasn’t there and I thought I would be there [?] and I went back. Anyway it was scrubbed and it was announced that I had completed my tour of ops which was fourteen months.
AM: Yeah. Finished.
EC: On record.
AM: Yeah.
EC: And so on and then I think, it will tell me in the book, I don’t know how long it was before I was posted. Anyway –
AM: What was it like being an instructor?
EC: Well I was very much at home.
AM: Yeah.
EC: Very much at home with it. I indulged a little bit here and there. [?] the smokers in those days. And they were chain smoking and you could tell the type you know.
AM: Yeah.
EC: I wasn’t [I was too disciplined to] smoke really. Anyway, I was, in June what I wanted to get to, I was called for interview by the station squadron commander. Got that right? Yes, in the book. Would I, ‘Would you accept recommendation for a commission in His Majesty’s Royal Air Force.’ ‘Yes sir.’ I was already a Church Lads Brigade officer for four hundred boys, you know. Anyway, ‘Thank you, you will get the papers eventually. You go home, you get kitted up and we will send you on your way.’ ‘Thank you sir.’ Away I went and went home and I got my papers there. I was a pilot officer.
AM: That was your commission.
EC: And that was that. Then it came through and by that time I was in this OTU getting in to the role of reflecting [?] the OTU as I was still a sergeant. And then I was called, [pause] damn it damn it damn it.
AM: I think you were, you were a sergeant, then a pilot officer.
EC: Yes.
AM: Then a flying officer.
EC: There’s a story with that, you see.
AM: Right ok.
EC: Because I was, I was called by the CO on the OTU where I was a senior instructor at that time.
AM: Yes. Yeah.
EC: ‘Your commission has come through, Pilot Officer Clarke,’ and he leaned across the desk to shake hands and I think it was and, ‘There are your papers, your railway warrant, you’ve eight days to get kitted out’ and [?] there.
EC: ‘Thank you sir,’ and away I went. Home. Pilot officer what had happened they found out later on that prior to getting your commission once you’re recommended you start off with the organisation. The quadron commander, the station commander, group headquarters at Lincoln and so on and then to command headquarters and then ten days later you, you’re an officer. Well I went through all that but it didn’t work. Somewhere along the line somebody sat on my papers or misdirected them or whatever and I arrived at this station and what was that station where I arrived at?
AM: Lincoln?
EC: No.
AM: No.
EC: South of Oxford.
AM: I can’t remember. Does it say in here where you were? No. Don’t worry. Don’t matter.
EC: [Pause] Damn. Damn. Damn.
AM: It’s frustrating isn’t it?
EC: It is yes.
AM: Where, where were, I’m just going back to your, where was Number One Bomber Command Instructor’s School?
EC: Finningley.
AM: That was at Finningley. So you did end up at Finningley in the end.
EC: Yeah.
AM: When were you demobbed Eric? How long did you stay in?
EC: October 13.
AM: 1945 or ’46.
EC: [?]
AM: You were demobbed.
EC: Yes. And I did fourteen months.
AM: Yes.
EC: Continuous.
AM: Operations.
EC: Which would be a record but at the time, statistically the lifespan of Bomber Command aircrew was seven or eight weeks.
AM: Yes.
EC: And I did fourteen months.
AM: You did.
EC: And -
AM: Do you know I think I’m going to switch off now.
EC: Yes.
AM: And let you have a drink and a rest but thank you.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Eric Clarke,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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