Interview with George Royall


Interview with George Royall



IBCC Digital Archive




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01:02:46 audio recording



ARoyallG150720, PRoyallG1501


GC: OK, good afternoon. This is Gemma Clapton on behalf of International Bomber Command. I am here with Warrant Officer George Royall and we are going to discuss his role during the war and anything else he would like to tell me. George, please?
GR: OK. Well I’ll start from the time when I volunteered to join the RAF and I wanted to go into air crew and this meant that I had to go up to London and have all the tests for mathematics and educational tests and then it went on to physical tests to see if you would pass OK from the health point of view, and then an interview with a number of officers to find out what your interests were, what you wanted to do in the Air Force, and air crew and like most people the first thing I wanted to do was be a pilot. They decided that they‘d have to check. I had to sit with my back to wall and put my legs out on the floor and there in front of me about a foot away was a brass bar and as my feet didn’t reach that distance I was not able to be considered as a pilot. They then looked at the results of the tests that I’d done and the medical and the educational side and decided they could offer me a post as — at that time it was a plural (?). So I accepted that. I was very keen to get into the Air Force and they said I’d have to wait a couple of months so I had a little badge to say I was on deferred service so that there were no white feathers coming my way while I’m waiting and then in due course I received my papers to say to report to London to start training as air crew. I was err, there two or three weeks, again being kitted out with uniform and various other bits and pieces and a few inoculations and some drill from the sergeants to see if they could smarten us up a bit so that we could walk smartly in our uniforms and then I was then posted to ITW which is Initial Training Wing test so where you do your navigation and all that what was required on that side, mathematics again, studying the stars and it takes about three months, all we were doing was navigation and map reading and the physical testing that you have to do and um, that was quite interesting because I was at Stratford on Avon was my ITW and err, the people there were brilliant and also it was the home of the, Stratford on Avon had their big theatre there which they did all the plays by Shakespeare and that, we were allowed to go in as servicemen and have the best seats in the house for one and sixpence. They used to do three plays a week so they were doing one play that night, forgetting the play they did the night before and learning the play they were going to do the next night and it was fantastic and I learned more Shakespeare than I’d ever learned in school. During this time of course we were doing quite a lot of our tests and running around Stratford getting fit. We used to have to do a five mile walk every morning before breakfast and then we would go back to the classrooms and start doing the physical work there, and it was a quite interesting period. There were twenty eight of us on the course and at the end of that time we then were waiting for our postings as the next step. This all took quite a bit of time because there were lot of people volunteering for air crew and there were a number of ah, people in front of us waiting for their turns and so on and so it took some time between, probably a month or six weeks before you could get on to the next course and from then I went down to, I was posted down to Brighton. That was quite an interesting period of time because there were two hotels that were used by the Air Force at the time, one was the Metropole Hotel and the other one was called the Grand Hotel. The Metropole was the one I was in, most of the British servicemen went to the Metropole but the Grand had mostly Polish volunteers that were going through the Air Force routine. A lot of them had escaped or found their way through Germany ahh, to England and were going to move on into the service from there. At that particular time I did have a cold and needed to go into the hospital for a while and by the time I came out from the, that, my other twenty eight, or twenty other members had already been posted so err, Heaton Park which is near Manchester on their way to the next course and I was struggling to try and catch up with them by labouring everybody from the officers right to go after them and I was about three weeks before I could get up to Heaton Park and by the time that happened they’d already moved on. They’d gone to um, I think it was — moved on to Blackpool I think it was they’d gone to there. And so by the time I got to Heaton Park I then had to wait until another two weeks to try and catch them up and I got to Blackpool they’d moved on and been posted to their training place for their wings tests err, and that was it. They went to Canada. These were the air schools [unclear] mainly from either Canada or they did some in America and South Africa and I got to Blackpool and was waiting for my posting to come up. They called out my name and I went to South Africa which was a long way away from where the other people had gone. I was happy because I preferred the warmer countries rather than Canada so I was quite happy and so my next move then was to, the posting, was to Liverpool with all our packs. I had three kitbags and so I packed both back packs and I had to walk from Liverpool Station to the docks to where I picked up the troop ship that was going to take me South Africa and there was quite a lot going on there because they were going to go in, in convoy and so there was naval ships all getting ready to usher us round and so for three days we were just swinging at anchor. Each time we looked out of the portholes of the ship we thought we were at sea but we’d only swung round looking at the main part of the Liverpool Estuary err, but on the third day we then set sail out towards South Africa, and this was a very interesting journey. It took us approximately six weeks travelling and we were mothered by naval rigs and cruisers floating around us every time there was the risk of submarines in the area they would disappear off looking for the submarines while we sailed slowly, moved on because we had ordinary ships with us as well as our ships. There was another troop ship with us and um, we were only doing I suppose about ten knots. We could only go as fast as the slowest ships that was in the convoy which was some old type ships that we were taking various routes backwards and forwards to England and going back and getting some more from wherever. So then we started our trip and we went, we went round, we didn’t go through the um, — can I stop?
GC: Yes. [pause]. OK.
GR: We were not going to go through the Suez Canal we were gonna go round by the Cape so it was a much further journey and also, to try and avoid the submarines that kept appearing in the area, knowing that the troopships were about, we had to go, first of all we steamed North and almost into Iceland before we started to turn to go to the west and then we went west and as UT navigators and that, we were plotting our course and working out the mileage, or being told the mileage the ship had done each day and we realised that we’d gone oh, well north and could have been approaching Canada or American shores before we started to turn south and went south for some weeks before we then eventually went round to Cape Horn and first of all, and then err, before we got to the Cape and we came past [pause] it was Freetown we came down to that side of the East Coast down past Freetown and we pulled into Freetown and the sights were fantastic, the colours, greenery, it was beautiful and blue seas. There were little boats floating about with the Navy that were posted in Freetown and there were WAAFs in their white uniforms and the sailors in their whites, and it was a fantastic sight. Um, people were coming out from the [unclear] to sell their wares and throwing things up to the decks for us to buy, apples and bananas and all that type of thing. We stayed in there overnight, it was very, very hot and we were wearing our khaki [unclear] and had to pull our sleeves down and make sure we didn’t have our shorts on, had our long trousers on, ah, khaki because of the mosquitoes. Very uncomfortable from that point of view, really hot. And then um, the next day we set sail again to carry on and go round to Durban, called in at Durban and, oh before we entered, we stopped at um, the one before, Capetown and a lot of the troops that were on board, they got off at Capetown, I think they were Palestine Police. Got off at Capetown and we then continued the next day on to Durban where we were taken off the ship because the ship was then going on to um, up towards India, in that direction, with troops going further. Ahh, but we came off at Durban and we were put into, a whole group of us, put into a brick buildings. There were no doors or windows so there was plenty of air through and there was — a lot insects all over the place, in the roof and everywhere there was things flying about where we were stopping. It was a bit uncomfortable. We had bunks, metal bunks and err, our three biscuits for our mattress and it held about ooh, thirty or forty of us in this place and it wasn’t very comfortable. But on the wall at the back where my headboard was, there was a Praying Mantis sitting there waiting for any insects to come flying his way, quite interesting. Ugly looking thing it was and so that was that part of the thing. And um, we were gonna to be there for some time as our next move was to be to the air school where would start our flying. But during this time while we were waiting all we had to do was report for duty first thing in the morning and um, some of us were put on fatigues in the mornings, peeling potatoes and things like that and then the rest of the day we were free. We didn’t have to report again until the next morning and so you could wander all over that part of South Africa where the natives lived and into their huts and where they were and um, we were having quite a good time, it was some — interesting. Some were growing bananas and they had quite a lot of things going on like that and I could reach out from where I was and pick bananas as I wanted and it was a very enjoyable period of time. The people there were marvellous, mostly they were people who had left England and went out to South Africa to live and were having their families out there. Some of them had been out there some ten or fifteen years. So it was quite err, and they were quite good to us, took us, if we were walking along the road anywhere cars would come along and stop and ask if we wanted the rest of the day out. They would drive us down to the sea, [unclear] and we’d go swimming, It was a marvellous country really thoroughly enjoyed it. The only drawback was there was the apartheid that was going where the South Africans themselves, um, Boers they were and they were looking after the black people and they segregated blacks and white people and there was a group they called ah, coloureds, the half castes, where black people had married into the white people and there was another sort of generation type of problem going on. So there were problems in that sense but err, for us out there it was quite an enjoyable period of time. [pause] The Boers used to look after the, a lot of the black men were prisoners because they only had to look at a white woman and they’d be accused of raping them and it didn’t take much for them to accuse a black man to end up in prison and they were, while they were in prison they came out every day, they came out and marched in chain gangs through the town and at various places they’d unhook some of these prisoners and they would go and then they would be the workers for the people in that particular house. They would look after the children or do the cooking or cleaning and things like that, they’d move on. And then during [unclear] in that way their houses at the end of the day they’d all be collected, chained up and marched back to prison again, which was not a very pleasant sight. It was part of South Africa which, which was err, a bit disturbing. Of course later on then, nowadays they got rid of the apartheid fortunately, but at that time it was very rampant. And then from then I then got posted to the air school, 48 Air School and we started our flying and we were flying in Ansons aircraft that was mostly used. Ahh, mostly they went to places like South Africa ‘cos you could fly every day, there was no problem weather-wise and there was no Germans anywhere near by so there was nothing to put us off from going up flying every day. So we used to do our navigation and trips and practising air gunnery and all these sort of things and do our ground course as well because we had to learn all about the stars and navigation using, by using the stars as a means of finding a fix and um, [pause] we would do all the ground work that was necessary and be taking our exams from time to time err, until such time as we sat the final exam and if we passed that we then got our wings, which was now as an air bomber because they split the observer trade into two because there was so much problems with earlier bombs not going into Germany, that they weren’t getting close to their targets or they were dropping their bombs miles away from their target so they decided they needed more technical help and needed more staff to operate things like H2S and G and the navigator was left to do the plotting on to the ground course map the course and pass the information to the pilot and the bomb aimer used to do the map reading, operate the G and H2S and the navigator could then do his work easier, a bit easier, with all the calculations because he used to have to plot a fix every six minutes which was [laughter] a pretty horrendous task really and they’d keep changing and working out from the wind directions and from the air speed and a lot of information was being fed to the navigator, some from the pilot giving him speeds and air speeds and the bomb aimer would be passing the information as to when he got fixes across rivers or along the coast line and times of where exactly and accurately put on the navigators plot so he could actually check he was on the course correctly, and um in the event of — We then got our wings and then ready to return back to England but even that was a bit of a problem, there was twenty of us on the course and they decided that there would be, I think it was five, five going back to England and the rest was going to go up to North Africa as they had sufficient on a course so they could be able to be bomb aimers in North Africa where they were going to be up, going to Tobruk where there were British people up, up there. The Germans barricaded them in and the Americans were flying bombing missions trying to bomb the German tanks and they were using pattern bombing and they had about twenty bombers flying over the, at fairly low level and they had a master bomber in the first aircraft and as they, out of the bombers, the bomb aimers they were just going up there not with very much experience they would be flying in the other aircraft and when the master bomber got to the right position, as they were over the top of the German tanks, he would drop the bombs on his and everybody else would drop their bombs so they were plastering the German tanks with bombers from quite low level and it didn’t need a lot of navigation, they just followed the master bomber. So that’s why they went and left five of us to come back to England, which they want us to do that we decided that it, would be a draw, there’d be five crosses in a hat, for us to, those who got the cross would be ones that came back to England. They also found that there were three members of the, who were on the course that were married, and they were automatically going to be sent home, although they’d only got married a week before they got the troop ship to go out, so it wasn’t a lot different to us. So there were only two crosses that were going to be counted. So there were two crosses left in the hat and we just took turns to see who got the cross and I thought well, I went up first because I thought the crosses were in there. If I wait somebody else would get up so I’ll go first and if I fish about I might find it and I did, I was lucky I got a cross and one other man got a cross and that was my passport back home. So that was my, and err, I think we waited about three weeks for the ship to take us back, this time it was a Dutch ship, it was the, it was, we were just going to go back without any cover from the navy at all because it was a ship that could do twenty odd knots and we just came straight back to England. The high speed and was back home after, it took us about three weeks, just under three weeks to go back to England instead of the six weeks it took us going out. So that was my trip to South Africa.
GC: OK, tell me a little bit about station life here, where you were stationed here in England.
GR: Ah, well. Well first of all when I came back from South Africa I had to go to OTU, an operation unit, there was more training to do there and then we went to, that was in North Wales on Anglesey and from there I went to OTU which was just outside, that was at, oh I can’t remember the name of that place now, but anyway that was a conversion unit where we were doing [unclear] flying and on um, that is before we went to the conversion unit. When I got there we went on to, first of all it was ah, we didn’t go on to a Lancaster straight away, there was a another aircraft but we only did a couple of training trips on that when they decided we would go to Kirmington 166 Squadron and they were Lancasters so our conversion was actually on Lancasters. The crew, first of all, on the Abingdon was the OTU was where we actually got crewed up and after doing training and, there we went into a big hangar where pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, radio operators they were all mixed, all there with all the results of the air tests pinned up around the wall and you just wandered around looking at names and associating the information with the people and you tried to get yourself into a crew by saying to, in my case, a pilot came up to me and said ‘have you got a crew yet?’ I said ‘no’, he said ‘would you like to become a member of my crew?’ so I said ‘yes’. He’d already picked a navigator that he’d looked at the results and he was happy with and then we found ourselves a radio operator, a wireless operator so that was the four of us there and so that was the start of our crew and then we were joined by two gunners that had been told which crews they were going to. They didn’t get much choice in the matter as far as I could see but they were attached to ours. That brought us up to six of us [unclear] and then we needed a, I think, and then when we got to, later on, we got a flight engineer joined us so we then became a crew of seven on the Lancasters and we were doing our training to get used to the Lancasters, I think that lasted, [pause] a few weeks and we were then posted to 166 Squadron at Kirmington which was just outside, not far away from Grimsby. Does that answer your question?
GC: Is there a trip or a sortie that sticks in your mind?
GR: A trip?
GC: A sortie?
GR: Oh when I was ops?
GC: Yes.
GR: Ah, well there was a couple. One was when I went to Kiel and that was [pause] I think most of the trips we were doing was to take, make the Germans, put, take their aircraft away from the Russians because Russian areas was where they were having problems, as you know, towards the end of the war, ah and Kiel was well defended, there was quite a lot of flak and also crossing the coast there were guns going off there quite a lot. There were quite a few fighters about and that was where the last pocket battleship was and by the time we got there it was already burning. The bombers in front of us had dropped bombs on to it and it was blown on its side and we were going in dropping bombs as well and to make sure that that wouldn’t be any good at all. That was the last pocket battleship. That was quite a hectic night that night and when we came from there the navigator took us on a quick route out to come back home and that was about an eight hour journey altogether. So that was that one and the other one was um, I think it was, I’m not sure if it was a Nuremberg one but there was one other trip in which we got coned in searchlights. As you fly in to the target area you can see, as a bomb aimer, you’re on the nose, you can see all the flak which is coming up over the target area and it’s about err, it looks a mile thick and there’s twinkling lights all the time, the shells bursting and you can see that from at least eight minutes before you get there and you know you’ve got to fly through all that flak before you can start dropping the bombs etc and that was while we were flying through we got searchlights again, suddenly there were searchlights and we were waving about and we were coned by the master searchlight, he got on to us. Once the master gets you all the searchlights come on to you. Every searchlight that was on focussed on that aircraft and that happened to be us this time which was very scary. You can’t see it’s so, absolutely brilliant [emphasis] light and obviously the pilot was then doing the corkscrewing and so diving down and pulling out at the bottom of the dive and back up again in the opposite direction and back down again to try and get out of the searchlights. While you’re doing that the actual G Force on you was clamping you to the side of the aircraft or the floor, wherever you are, and you can’t move, you can’t even think straight. You can’t see, expecting the shells, suddenly expecting to be blown apart because once you’re coned there’s very little chance of getting out. But err, this particular time, our pilot was brilliant and he did eventually escape the coning. Took us about three or four minutes before we got back in the darkness again and breathe again and move again which was about one of the worst experiences that I had. [pause] Certainly not recommended. [pause]
GC: Tell me a little bit about life actually at the station. What was it like to see your station when you came home?
GR: [sighs] Well, [pause] you’re a bit exhausted and as we used to fly in towards Grimsby and coming in to the squadron there was Kirmington Church – had a green spire, you could see that. It was a beautiful sight when you see that as you’re coming in. You get that feeling of peace coming over you, at last you can relax and the other thing I noticed, it was the time of year, on top of the hill where we were there had been peas grown and they’d all been cleared off and bare ground sort of really and it was a mass of poppies the whole field was a mass of poppies and you could see that from miles away, see that poppy and you could see both the poppies and the green spire of Kirmington. It was a beautiful welcome back home and it was lovely I enjoyed that very much, and err, that was great. And then once we’d landed and went to debriefing um, you could then have your eggs and bacon and then you were free and you could go round to your bed. Our bed was in the woods at the bottom of the hill at Kirmington and there were about three crews in this Nissen hut. There were no facilities there, no toilets or any of that sort of thing, just a bare Nissen hut. I used to walk through the woods up to what was the, there was a big arch there on top of the hill and err, [pause] oh crikey, I can’t think of the name of the — It was an arch dedicated to the man that owned all the ground where the farmers were renting out their farms and I think he was a lord or something like that, anyway, through this arch I used to walk through and sit down on, just outside of the arch and you could look at and down to the bottom of the hill on the other side of the arch there was a big lake. I used to sit and look at the lake and think of the peace, the change. Nothing, no sound, nothing, just sit there looking into the lake and trying to get your breath back from where you’d been and it was a complete change to sit thinking. It was really marvellous sight and it lived in my mind, as it does today. I can always see that arch and the lake and the peace, yes. They were periods that I remember very much. (sound of cutlery on china)
GC: How about family, how did they go through the war? Were you married?
GR: Ah, well I got, yes, I’m just, getting confused. I was married while I was at Kirmington, yes and my wife used to come up to stay. She used to stay in the village just by the airfield and part of the time while I was doing the ops she was there while I was on the squadron and um, she came up later on and she stayed with some people in the local village and they were very good. We had a marvellous time with them. They had two children and I used to go and stay there some nights and yeah they were brilliant. In fact, when the war ended I used to go back there with my wife and we used to, went back there for years and years until he, the man finally died, ‘cos he was an older man and then we still kept in contact with the children as they grew up and err, we made a lot, quite a lot of friends in that village.
GC: How about the Lancaster? You say you flew the Lancaster. How was she as a plane, what was she like to be in?
GR: What was the first —
GC: The Lancaster, what was the Lancaster like to fly in?
GR: Oh, it was marvellous, it was the greatest aircraft I’d ever been in and err, yeah it brings tears to your eye when you even hear it today. Last year I went back to Kirmington and I visited the squadron and one or two squadrons round about and I went to Bomber Command’s Lancaster and I went to the Kirton Lin — is it, Kirton?
GC: Kirkby?
GR: Pardon?
GC: East Kirkby?
GR: East Kirkby, that’s right. They have the Lancasters there which um, I had a ride in the bomb nose round on the peri-track and I was able to go right up into the nose and I went back seventy years in my mind as we were going round in that and it was fantastic. The sounds is beautiful. I’ve got a photograph on the wall there of my visit and I was entertained real royally by the people at Kirton (sic) and yes it was great and then I went to where the [pause] the one and only Lancaster, the flying Lancaster. I went back there and I got into the nose there. They took me round the Lancaster there, it was another great experience.
GC: So, good memories?
GR: Oh yes. I was talking to the pilot and he was asking me how the Lancaster behaved when we did the, when we got caught in the [pause] hmm.
GC: Spotlight?
GR: Ahh, goes out of my mind. At ninety three it’s most difficult to remember the words but err, [long pause]. When we did the corkscrewing, that’s the word I’m trying to think of. When the aircraft does a corkscrew he wanted to know how the Lancaster stood up to it. Of course with their Lancaster they can’t do that they can only fly gently and err, with our one when we were in the corkscrew it behaved absolutely brilliantly. It took all the strain and it was, it winged and waggled about it a bit but there were no cricks or cracks or anything. It was, it was a lifesaver, it was brilliant and we had a great pilot. He’d been in Canada for two years before he came to us and he’d been training pilots and he decided he wanted some action and by the time he came back to England that’s when he managed to join in, pick his crew and that’s when I joined with him and um, it was him that saved our lives really because his piloting was fantastic and the aircraft behaved absolutely brilliant.
GC: I know air crews and ground crews were very protective of their planes. Did you ever bring one home not in one piece? Did you ever get damaged?
GR: Well, not really damaged but our crew, every time we landed they went over it and it was their [emphasis] aircraft, we only borrowed it as far as they were concerned and they really loved that and they looked at every mark. And we went back one time and we thought we had a hole blown in the side of the aircraft or something because we’d got thrown out of the sky on the way back as if we’d really been hit and I was sent by the pilot back down the plane to look for the damage and I was going very carefully ‘cos I was expecting a great big hole in the aircraft and err, I couldn’t find anything and came back and reported all seemed to be OK. When we got back to the ground crew we reported that we’d been hit, somewhere, but err, and it had been quite severe because it had taken the stick away from the pilot. He had to let go, it was taken out of his hand by the pressure. And, um, the next morning when we came back to the squadron again they said they’d been over the aircraft and there was no real damage except for a piece of shrapnel had lodged in the fins, the elevator of the aircraft and it had jammed in and it forced the elevator which was then [unclear] controls and taken the stick away from the pilot for that few seconds. It was just one bit of flak and it hit that bit of the aircraft. It was still lodged in there, they found the bit of flak as well. So that was the only time they really got close to us that we knew about.
GC: How about at the end of the war? What was your, what did you do at the end once sorties had been finished?
GR: Well when the war finished that was, the squadron formed up and they told us that the war had now ended and that the various countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, they wanted their men back and they were taken off the squadron that very minute. They disappeared from the group and from rest of the people were left. So my pilot went back to Canada because he’d married a Canadian girl while he was out there. The rear gunner was an Australian, he disappeared um, so our crew was broken up, and all the crews had various members of the Commonwealth who were taken away around that time and shipped off back to their home countries, which, at such a speed that we didn’t have time to say goodbye, what’s your name and address because as crews we never met their relatives or their parents or whatever. When we had leave we all went to our own families and then met back again when we came and that — we didn’t socialise apart from as a crew. So we didn’t know one another, we didn’t know where they lived, we weren’t able to contact those. The only people we were able to contact were those that were still left on the squadron, which was rather a shame. I never did hear from my pilot again or the rear gunner. When they died, if they died, I never did know, which was a real sadness to me. But then, after they’d gone what was left were then the various members of the crews, we made into other crews, we made a crew and I went with a Squadron Leader [unclear], his crew must have all been Canadians because he lost his crew completely so he had some, [unclear] crew which was myself and a radio operator and a navigator and we had some, I think we had a couple of gunners as well from somewhere else that made a proper crew and then we were sent on various missions. We did some training together to become a crew and we were sent to places like, we used to fly to Italy and we were fetching back people that had been waiting for their demob numbers to come up such as they come from North Africa into Italy and were in the war fighting in Italy and when the war finished they were just left there waiting for their demob. They never got home until they were demobbed err, unless their leave period came up and then we used to pick them up and bring them back for their leave and take them back again after the leave had finished. They were both WRNS and WAAFs and, as well as the airmen, some airmen who had been released from concentration camps, they’d come back. And so any people like that were put into the Lancasters to bring home as quickly as they could. The Lancaster had white circles painted on the floor and they were about a foot diameter and that was about all the space these people had while we brought them back. They had to stand and hold on to the side of the aircraft all packed in together so we could get as many people in as possible, except that if they were WRNS or WAAFS I think we normally did separate the ladies from the men on the trips, but I used to get, if it was WAAFS or WRNS on board I could generally get two of them in the nose lying on cushions on the way back, that was more pleasant for them and for me. The rest of them just had to sit where they could in the aircraft but err, we would only fly at about 2000 ft when we bringing a load of people back because they wouldn’t have parachutes and we didn’t have parachutes either so it was thought best that we all went without parachutes just in case of accidents and we might be able to land if we weren’t flying at too high a height. So that was our, we carried on doing that until the squadron closed down and I was posted to Kenley waiting for my demob.
GC: I think finally do you have one enduring memory, one emotion from your time?
GR: [pause] One emotion. Well my main emotion was the fact that I was really upset at the way that the squadron was split up and broken up without any thought whatsoever about comradeship that had been formed during our time and, as if, you know, it really hurt me and I think it upset most of the air crew people the way that Bomber Command was discarded for political reasons. That was my main emotion.



Gemma Clapton, “Interview with George Royall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 26, 2020,

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