- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harry Gould
- Location of story:
- Portsmouth to Crete
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 November 2003
These are excerpts from a small battered pocket book diary charting events following my late father's voluntary entry into the Royal Marines in 1940, as a signaller. It is in a rather poor state, and being written in pencil, some pages are very feint, but here goes:
Volunteered for royal marines about may 1940. Called on August 6th 1940. Arrived Eastney Barracks , Portsmouth 9.30am August 7th, 1940.
Swimming, 12 weeks training, parade & gym? 3 weeks small arms, rifle and bren. Gas training 14th week.
Nov. 13th, passed swimming, 4 lengths in duck test suit.
Nov. 24th, should have gone to gunnery.
Nov. 26th, transferred to Hayling for sig. M.n.b.d.o.
Dec. 18th, received Christmas parcel from Nell.
(no entries for January)
Feb. 3rd 1941, left Hayling for unknown destination.
Feb. 4th, arrived at Glasgow on Clyde.
Eat, sleep and sit in one place. Food not bad.
Name of ship, ‘Almanzora’, 15,000 tons.
Feb. 7th, still not sailed except a little further up the river. Getting rather bored with nothing to do! Hope we sail tomorrow. Terribly home sick.
Yesterday was inspected by first sea lord, admiral sir dudley pound, and the adjutant general of marines, Lieutnt-General Godfrey Bowrue.
Weather very rough, boat sways in the wind, raining hard.
Feb. 8th, (Saturday), supposed to have sailed midnight. Anchor raised during night, but weighed again later. Up at six feeling none too good. Very hot down here. Not much air. Managed to get porridge down but can’t face spuds and sausage! Just ate half slice of bread and butter. I feel a bit better at noon and eat my dinner. In the afternoon have headache over my eyes. Outside still raining and windy. Wish we were sailing. Feeling fed up. Seem to miss Nell and home more than ever.
Feb. 9th, (Sunday), set sail at 1.0’clock last night. Woke up feeling sick. Get out of my hammock and make way to lavatory to be sick, and oh my! Am I sick. Plenty more too are sick!. I made this entry on the fourth day of sailing. The three days in between I was helpless - sickness indescribable.
Feb. 12th, (Wed.), slept amidship and feel a little better though very weak and shaky. Have half a cup of tea and half a slice of bread and jam, the first for three days, except for dry biscuits and water from my bottle. At night as I write this, I am sitting in the smoke room amidship. Don’t feel too good. Ship rocks like a ferry boat. We can expect more storms yet. Still going west about four or five hundred miles out.
Buzz going round our escort has destroyed two u-boats. Am not afraid. I put my trust in my prayers and believe in God more than ever!.
Very large convoy, marvellous escort of 3 aircraft carriers, 2 cruisers and 14 destroyers. I will destroy this if I seem likely to be captured by the enemy!.
Feb. 13th, (Thursday), woke up a 6.00am not feeling very well and I am slightly sick. Improve a little after a wash and button cleaning and am able to eat half a round of bread and jam. At 7.30am I go on deck to walk round until 9.30, when I fall in for physical training, whether you are sick or not. Personally I feel too sick and weak to walk around! At 10.0’clock we have buzzer and semaphore reads. At dinner time I ate a little dinner, or should I say I pressed it down!. In the afternoon, more instructions. Eat a slice of bread at teatime., then after an hour or so in the smoke room, I retire to my hammock.
Feb. 14th, (Friday), woke up at 6.00am after a poor nights sleep. When in my hammock, my inside goes up and down with the ship, and being right forard. Believe my its pretty bad. Sick again on getting up and eating very little breakfast as usual. Feeling very fed up and very homesick. Must have travelled about a thousand miles in zigzag fashion.
Nobody knows where we are going, although we can’t be very far from Greenland, heading for Canada, according to the sun!. God knows where we are going to end up. Eat some dinner at 12.30am and enjoy it although my head is still going round. Rest of day rather monotonous and I end up with a wash and shave. Not feeling too grand yet. It is very cold out and we have had snow and hailstones. We saw some white sea swallows today.
Feb. 15th, (Saturday), much better this morning. Except for a swingy head I don’t feel too bad so I eat my breakfast. Rest of day – usual routine. I eat fairly well today. Joined by battle-cruiser in the afternoon. Travelling south-west. Retire feeling very tired.
Feb. 16th, (Sunday), didn’t go to church today. I feel very much better today and ate my meals each time. It has been a glorious day today, which proves we are going south - it is warmer and the sea is very calm. Quite a good day.
Feb. 17th (Monday), still sailing on and on accompanied by Ark Royal , Renown, and cruiser Birmingham;. Usual routine, very monotonous. Shall be glad when we reach our first call. Weather so much warmer and the sea fairly calm. Must be travelling south.
Feb. 18th, (Tuesday), weather very nice - nothing of importance happened today. Have been planning what to do when I get back home, if I’m lucky enough, anything can happen on this job!.
Feb. 19th, (Wednesday), weather still very calm and fairly warm. Supposed to have passed on a level with Gibraltar today. Further planning of my laundry to come. Cook today.
Feb. 20th, (Thursday), continuing our journey southwards. Weather very warm with nice breeze. Routine still and reads during the day.
Feb. 21st, (Friday), rise at 6.00am, have wash and shave, breakfast at 7.00am. Go on deck at 7.45am. It is pitch black and you have to feel your way about. You are not allowed below on the mess deck until 11.00am any morning. This is the worst part of the day as we are 3 or 4 hours ahead with our watches in this part of the world. It is dark till 9.30am. It is monotonous getting the time over, shall be glad when we make our first port. I was inoculated today. I expect it will make me ill a little. I had tetanus and typhoid.
Feb. 22nd, (Saturday), rise at 5.45am. My arm is aching and very stiff and sore. I also have a nasty headache. Have difficulty in washing as I can’t get my hand to my face! Later had to be helped into my battle dress blouse. Have to lie down later in the day and am excused PT - feel generally rotten.
Feb. 23rd, (Sunday), arm still very stiff and sore but feel a little better of myself. Eat breakfast as usual, porridge, egg and bacon and tea. HMS Renown has been replaced with battle cruiser Malaya.
Feb. 24th, (Sunday), nearing tropics, getting very warm on the mess deck. My arm is much better today. As day goes on, it gets very hot, think we shall be in tropical gear tomorrow.
Feb. 25th, (Monday), whole ships company changes into shorts & toupees. What a queer sight at first! It’s a bit cool first thing but after 10.00am the sun is scorching hot and canvas covers are put up everywhere the sun shines a lot. Quite a lot are sleeping on deck tonight. I sleep below but can’t wear anything except underpants, and then I perspire heavily. Phew! You sweat while you eat.
Feb. 26th, (Tuesday), hot, not much! I bet it’s freezing in England. We long for news of home. Every man is allotted two bottles of pop per day. We are getting short of drinking water too. Supposed to have two days supply in tanks. We expect to reach Freetown by Friday. Oh boy, is it hot. We seem to have run into it all at once. The sea is like a duck pond and the sun glistens over the water, causing a slight mist. It’s lovely out here. We are still well guarded by two battleships, two cruisers and an armed merchant cruiser, and each ship has guns of her own. I am sitting on the deck as I write this note, and at 9.30pm everybody will be in bed, and the sun will still be shining!. We are about three hours ahead with our clocks. All the same I wish I was going back to my dear Nell.
Feb. 27th (Wednesday), Ash Wednesday today and it was Pancake Tuesday yesterday, but I didn’t know. We had a mixture of whitewash and semolina. At least it tasted like it! I thought about those lovely steaming hot pancakes I should have had at home. It is scorching hot today. Everybody is getting sunburnt. I wish we were on the job. Everyone is fed up of the journey.
Feb.28th (Thursday), still very hot and not reached land yet.
Mar.1st (Friday), am due to go on guard at 9.00am till 9.00am tomorrow. It is very hot through the night, nearly everyone sleeps on the upper decks. Half hour in the sun and you are sunburnt. I get a good position on guard, nicely shaded but in open air near the crew’s quarters. Two hours on and four off. At night I have an orange from one of the crew. These are scarce and only officers get them now. Am very thankful for it as we are getting very short of drinking water, and that isn’t good as it is purified with tablets. We should refill Sunday.
Mar.2nd (Saturday), I finish my guard at 9.00am and have finished now for 48 hours. Exceedingly hot but have to stop on deck till after rounds at 10.30am., then went below for a much needed wash and shave and dinner. I knock about a little during the afternoon, dry some washing etc. At night I had a couple of games of housey-housey but have no luck, then retire feeling tired.
Mar.3rd (Sunday), this morning everyone is on the lookout for ‘land, glorious land’. When I get on top deck it is not in sight yet, and we steamed on accompanied again by flotillas of destroyers and battle- ships - a sight to remember. A marvellous feat I think, to get all these men and materials across so much water, and believe me, I am glad we are within reach of land. Yesterday we were off Dakar, and that speaks for itself as regards danger but we saw no Ities or Gerrys. About to enter our first port which is Freetown. The next stop will be Durban, and now I await further happenings probably this afternoon. It is now 10.30am and I can just see the west coast of Africa. I must admit I feel slightly excited and relieved that we have reached land safely. All the ships are now in line, miles of them, about 50 I should say with escorts. The first view appears hilly like Scotland. It is 1.00pm and we have just dropped anchor. A very big harbour, very much like the Clyde, except everybody is black, real natives, and the beach is covered with what looks like coconut trees, banana and palm trees, and other tropical stuff. We are now surrounded by little canoes with two or three natives in each, full of oranges, bananas, coconuts and other African fruit. They are very amusing too, and we have some laughs. Oranges 18 for 6d., bananas the same. They also have wicker baskets in colours and silk cloths. Some were made in Manchester and Birmingham! They stayed round the boat till late at night. There is only partial blackout here. Tonight they put back the clocks two hours so we shall get two hours extra sleep. Today passed over very quickly.
Mar. 4th (Monday), usual routine, PT, reads & lecture, in the afternoon we have baths. Of course the natives are still selling their wares from early morning. They are dressed in all varieties of clothes. Hear first news from England.
Mar. 5th (Tuesday), we started lessons at 8.00am so that we can have afternoons off because of the heat. I washed yesterday and partly dried them. Am going to dry them out this afternoon. I have just bought some more bananas and oranges - they are cheaper now, 1/2d each - have eaten plenty. Our food hasn’t been too good lately and they filled us up with water the other day which tasted of petrol - the ship had previously been an oil tanker!. Am going to bed now.
(another duplication of date)
Mar 5th (Tuesday), rather cooler today, though still hotter than English summer. It is supposed to be winter here, the coldest they have had for some time. Nothing unusual happened today.
Mar. 6th (Wednesday), very hot again today with a nice breeze. We are still anchored in the harbour of Freetown which is in Sierra Leone , between French Guiana and Liberia. Now we shall proceed via the Gold Coast and Cape Town. Will take about two weeks. We are about half a mile from the coast and we have a lovely of the hilly ground covered with wild vegetation. The natives are doing good business by exchanging shirts and other things off us for printed scarves and handkerchiefs. We should soon be sailing again now as we filled up with oil last night.
Mar. 6th (Thursday), still in harbour, getting a bit fed up again - want more action. The weather is glorious, scorching hot, I sweat while I eat. The food is getting lousy.
Mar. 7th (Friday), preparations are being made to sail tomorrow. More ships are joining us. Tonight I heard Big-Ben on the wireless and some very reassuring news. The fact that the Germans have entered Bulgaria doesn’t worry me - the Turks won’t let us down. The convoy which sailed in front of us lost five ships by a German surface raider. It wasn’t protected like we were. All the same, I’m glad I heard about that after we had arrived here. Glad to know nothing serious has happened in England. That bucked me up quite a lot.
Mar. 8th (Saturday), all ships turning and levelling up ready to sail. Troops are buying final supplies of fruit from the natives. We are just moving off now - it is 12.30pm and the sun shines brightly on the hills making a fine sight.
Mar. 9th (Sunday), we are well on our way now to our second port of call, which may be Cape Town , if we get there? We shall be in dangerous waters on the east side of Africa. Anyhow, we are not to a ship or two apparently, as we have allowed for 10% casualties. We had egg & bacon for breakfast which I devoured hungrily.
Mar. 10th (Monday), it is fairly rough this morning and on going on top deck I find it is raining torrents and there is heavy thundering and lightening. It is still very hot though it is breezy.
Mar. 11th (Tuesday), today we are going to cross the Equator line, and the usual thing to do when anyone crosses the line for the first time, is to be ducked, and sometimes tarred and feathered, but the captain considered this too gay for the errand we are on. So instead we are having a holiday today and there is to be some sports. We are also to have a certificate to show we have crossed the Equator. It is not as hot on the line as it is each side of it. I feel very fed up today, everything is so monotonous day in, day out, nothing to see but water, water, and more water. Won’t I be glad when we reach our final port, although I appreciate that we have a lot to go through before we get back home - if we ever do! We used to grumble at Eastney Barracks but this ship beats all I’ve been through. The men call it the ‘Altmark’.
March 12th (Wednesday), I slept in the open air last night on the foc’sle with other signallers. I feel very much refreshed too, compared with sleeping below where it is about 90 degs fahrenheit . It rained a little at first but soon cleared off leaving a stiff breeze which swung my hammock to and fro. Today has been very eventful. I feel very much cheered up by the news I have heard. We were given a lecture before dinner all about m.n.b.d.o. and he revealed to us some startling facts. He said that when we started from England we had a definite place to go to, but events have moved so fast, that at this moment we have no definite plate to go to, although everything points to Alexandria - seems strange but true. We may have to go anywhere . The officer said that we may hand over the base to the Army, in six month’s time, when we have prepared it. That statement pleased me very much because we should be back in England by Christmas. Think of it - off this ‘Altmark’. Too good to be true! As I write this on the mess deck, sweat is pouring off my face and trickling down my back and legs. Tonight is is reported that the German pocket battleship is in the vicinity. Was vaccinated today.
Mar. 13th (Thursday), rained again last night . I got my bedding wet slightly. I didn’t get up, just covered my face up and went to sleep again. Nothing unusual today, a concert this afternoon - I didn’t go, wrote letters instead. Have got slight headache.
Mar. 14th (Friday), the weather is getting rougher now we have crossed the line. We are about a weeks’ sailing from Cape Town where we expect to have some shore leave. Notice in the news from England that the RAF have again bombed German targets heavily. I am looking forward to being back in England soon after Christmas.
Mar. 15th (Saturday), have written to Jack from the Cape. This morning we fell in for PT and reads till 9.00am, then we are having the day off to do our washing.
Mar. 16th (Sunday), weather getting colder as we near the Cape. No parades today so have nothing to do. Wrote letter to Nellie. Have slight toothache.
Mar. 17th (Monday), very cold this morning and everyone turns out in khaki. General routine, afternoon off. Neuralgia bad and have a cold and sore throat so I take cephos and aspirins - feel slightly better at night.
Mar. 18th (Tuesday), don’t feel too good this morning, my face still numb with the pain and aspirins. Eat breakfast and carry on with usual routine. Head blocked up and throat rusty owing to the sudden change in the weather.
Mar. 19th (Wednesday), feel none too good this morning but avoid sick bay, still full of cold. We are not very far from Cape Town now, tomorrow night should almost see us there. Roll on Thursday.
Mar. 20th (Thursday), well we are still plodding on this morning , my cold not much better, though it’s a good job I had these aspirins and flu powders or I should have to have gone sick. As it is, I am sticking it. My vaccination is on it’s 10th day tomorrow, up to now it hasn’t troubled me very much. Towards dinner time, our ship and three others with a cruiser, leave rest of convoy - they go on to Durban. We call at the Cape. I understand I am on list of military police for first day’s patrol of town. It is now nearly teatime and land is not yet in sight. The sea is very rough, like North Atlantic , but I’m not feeling sick, and am ready for tea. Think Nell will be packing this afternoon unless very busy. Guess they are all very tired.
Mar. 21st (Friday), have not arrived at Cape Town yet. We shall definitely arrive at teatime today. Sight cliffs at about 3.00pm and pull into docks at 6.00pm. The view of Cape Town from the sea with the hills just behind, is something never to be forgotten. There is no blackout. Leave is granted to all “not” on duty. Consequently I have, no I haven’t, I thought I had to stay on board, but someone just came in while I was writing and said patrol was not required tonight so I am going for a run ashore with two more lads. Well I’m well satisfied with Cape Town! Everything was free to us – buses, food, drink, anything. The first café we had eats for which we paid though it was cheap. I had onions, sausage and mash, coffee and bread and butter, as much sugar as we wanted, not being rationed, it cost me 1/3d. Further up town we had chats with several people, every-thing is in English here. The tablecloth in the café was marked “sultan” made in England. On a box in the docks it read “ Britain delivered the goods”. The picture houses are showing George Formby in “spare me copper” and Edward G. Robinson. Talk about bright lights – big shops and all posh cars, police dressed like marines. Parties of armed guards with officers patrol the streets – there is a strict colour bar here. We went in a sort of club run by WVS in which we had bunches of grapes handed to us, cakes, pies and ice cream, and I had a drink of ginger beer – the best I’ve ever tasted. At 11.0’clock we went back to ship after a pleasant outing, but a surprise awaited us – we were sailing in the morning. At first we thought it was a buzz, but it was true.
Mar. 22nd (Saturday), this morning we set sail to catch up with rest of convoy which is going on to Durban. Tonight we have run into heavy storm, which made me sick within an hour. Get into bed feeling groggy.
Mar. 23rd (Sunday), feel much better now, weather slightly better, though still choppy.
Mar. 24th (Monday), this morning have sighted rest of convoy 20 miles ahead, expect to reach Durban today.
Mar. 25th (Tuesday), arrived at Durban at 10.15am. Seems to be very nice place, favours New York from the sea. I am street patrol today and have to fall in at 18.00 hours.
Apr. 1st (Wednesday), have thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Durban. Steamed out today. Everybody gave us a grand welcome. Went to a service on cricket ground on Sunday morning, attended by hundreds of Durbanites, where the parson gave us a hearty welcome. I and two other marines were picked up by a car and taken to supper and we went again the following night. And the afternoon after than we went to one of their friend’s house for tea and went back to ship at 11.00pm. We also changed ships too. We are on good troop ship now. Had ride in mayor’s car – 45 hp Packard.
Apr. 2nd (Wednesday), back at sea and heading north towards the equator again and probably Bomb Alley, or Aden. Food is better on this ship. We have 22 men missing off this ship, left at Durban.
Apr. 8th (Tuesday), to save space, am only making occasional entries whilst at sea, because each day is so much the same. Tomorrow we shall once more cross the Equator. We are having games etc. Again. Weather is very hot. In a fortnight we shall be sailing up the Red Sea, where it will be hot in more ways than one. We are now in the Indian Ocean, reputed to be the calmest sea in the world. Just off the line it was like a pond. Yesterday I was in terrific pain as though I had a chill on the stomach, several others were the same. I went to the sickbay at night where I received a dose of castor oil and two white tablets. Am much better today.
Apr. 11th (Good Friday), no routine today, had hot cross buns for tea.
Apr. 12th (Saturday), continued and concluded exam.
Apr. 13th (Easter Sunday), glorious sunny day with nice breeze. Am going to church at 10.30am.
Apr. 14th (Monday), have sighted British Somalia for few minutes, proceeding up the Gulf of Aden.
Apr. 16th (Wednesday), are still in Gulf of Aden. Tomorrow all ships make dash for Port Suez individually. Have seen no enemy close to yet. Last night gunfire was seen on port side, supposed to be Eritrea. Abbys. Expect to reach port Sunday, where we disembark.
Apr. 17th (Thursday), last night we passed through bottleneck safely. Could see quite close Eritrea on port side and Arabia on starboard. All water tight doors below deck were closed for safety. This morning we are going flat out. We are in front being fast and rest of ships in long line behind. We are now in the Red Sea.
Apr. 20th (Sunday), arrived at Port Suez at 10.30am. It is very cold here at night. On one side are hills and sands which seem to stretch forever and on the other is also sands opposite us, while further up is the docks. We were going to land here but I think they have decided to risk the Suez Canal tomorrow. We are all packed up ready to land. Most peculiar thing is the awful smell about.
Apr. 21st (Monday), left Port Suez at 6.00am to pass through the canal. We are doing good time – on each side miles of sand. On one side we pass plenty of Egyptians. Everyone waves to us. A road runs practically the whole length. At 5.00pm we arrive at Port Said. Never thought I would visit all these places. Still don’t know where we are going – maybe Alex.
Apr. 22nd (Tuesday), reveille at 3.00am. Wash, shave and breakfast. Ready to leave ship at 6.00am. Don’t leave till 8.00am then wait on the station for two hours. Get in train and start off at 12 noon. Carry full marching order and rifle , and two heavy kit bags. We arrive in place not known miles in the desert, hundreds of tents, real active service this. Nothing but some Gerry over during night.
Apr. 23rd (Wednesday), up at 6.00am and have shave by means of one tap. Breakfast 7.30am. Sun shining bright now but very cold at night.
May 1st (Thursday), reveille at 5.30am and leave camp to go via lorry to El Quisassin, board train, cattle truck through Ismalia to Port Said, arriving at 6.30pm. Of course we don’t have much food.
May 2nd (Friday), have not sailed tonight, very little food, chiefly biscuits. Probably sail tomorrow for Greece or the island of Crete. Expect to be heavily bombed.
May 3rd (Saturday), have not sailed yet.
May 4th (Sunday), detailed for sentry guard, have not sailed yet. Have taken mail on board for Crete.
May 5th (Monday), still hanging on all day, have not received any mail yet. Erecting guns all over ship.
May 6th (Tuesday), sailed this morning with two other ships and one armed sloop, presumably for Crete. At 6.00pm our ship broke down and we hoisted “out of control” signal. Other ships cruising. What a lovely place to break down - 150 miles out and drifting helpless, a lovely target for dive bombers. We may be here till tomorrow. Have wirelessed for help.
May 7th (Wednesday), engine repaired during night and restarted about 4.00am. At 12.30pm had caught up with other ships. At 2.00pm we are joined by 5 more destroyers. We are right in submarine area, should contact battleships later. Very dangerous at 5.00pm. We are to land at Suda Bay which is opposite Greece. Can be seen arriving by planes . It is now 7.00pm and we are being attacked by 3 dive bombers. We have about 30 guns on our ship and they are firing top speed , so are the escorts – noise terrific – all below deck with life jackets and steel helmets on. One has just dived and dropped a torpedo. It has hit - one of our supply ships is going down – expect its our turn now, excitement collosal . No more being bombed, aircraft leaving, damaged ship steaming on but dropping back slowly. Sleep in clothes tonight. Arrive safely in dock.
May 8th (Thursday), early morning ready to disembark. 9.00am march five miles , full marching order, arrive camp all in. Blistered feet etc. Put up bivouacs among trees. Very tired.
May 9th (Friday), have several raids – no damage. Biscuits chief ration.
May 10th (Saturday), more raids during day. 6.00pm machined gunned by dive bomber.
May 29th evacuated Crete after 60 miles march. Boarded ship at 1.00am and was given cocoa – first drink for two days. Exhausted. Lost all kit.
May 30th (Saturday), still at sea on our way to Alexandria. Are bombed all the way across. Arrive 2.00am Sunday.
-- 11 --
May 31st (Sunday), arrive at naval camp. Food not very good.
June 2nd (Monday), still knocking around camp, wish they would send us home to be refitted.
June 3rd (Tuesday), are given some kit, shirt, pants and futties. Camped in village of Ciddi bishe.
June 4th (Wednesday), ceased rum ration. Left Alex at 10.00am for El-Tahag, our original camp. Expect leave.
June 5th (Thursday), had breakfast, 2 eggs, cheese, bread and tea. Received first letter from Nell, dated 24th February.
June 13th (Friday), entered general hospital with a slight skin disease, rashes etc.
June 15th (Sunday), still in hospital having good rest, plenty food.
June 19th (Thursday), left hospital this morning, rejoined unit at El-Tahag.
June 24th (Wednesday), having 7 days leave in Cairo. Very nice weather.
June 30th (Monday), arrive back El-Tahag from 7 days leave near Cairo.
July 6th (Sunday), commenced don r. Local dispatches.
June 12th (Saturday), arrived at Kibset for training with Aussies and New Zealanders for invasion.
Sept 22nd, became candidate for corporal with special recommendations.
Last diary entry is a sketched map of naval base camp, El Tahag.
I decided to print this diary partly as a tribute to my late father's memory, and also because it has awakened a thirst for more information about the battle for Crete and w.w.2 in general.
The more I read, the more I realise how lucky I was to have been brought up in a complete family, when so many fathers did not come home at all.
I had him for a lifetime. A marvellous father, a great character, and a royal marine to the end.
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