American Volunteers in British Army. (KRRC)

Discussion in 'General' started by Owen, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    As best as I can work out it's the Mint Leaf Restuarant (Its definately a restuarant) with a hotel above. The hotel is definately the Haymarket Hotel.

    Cheers
    Andy
     
  2. Asperon Thorn

    Asperon Thorn Junior Member

    Well that's a shame, I guess. I hope it's a good restaurant at least.

    The next letter is quite a bit longer than the previous two, and includes his stay in the military hospital and then getting assigned special duty. It will probably be a while before I get it up.

    Asperon Thorn
     
  3. Asperon Thorn

    Asperon Thorn Junior Member

    Not much to add as an introduction to this one. . . so I won't. Lots of English spelling in this one, as opposed to proper good American. ;-)

    As usual, written for an insulated audience back in the States.


    Lt. N.M.Lejeune
    % American Express Co.
    The Haymarket, London, S.W.1, England

    July 13, 1943

    Dear

    It seems that I get around to writing these letters only about once in every three months, since it takes about that long for enough news to accumulate to make it worth while writing at all. I am afraid that this last three-month period has ben rather devoid of news because I have spent most of it in hospital recovering from a smashed up knee. I fell off a bicycle. It wasn't a very heroic action, and so far I have not been awarded any medals for it, but I did get two weeks' leave out of it, which is, after all, the only thing which really matters.

    Life in a military hospital is anything but restful. One is roused at 5:30 in the morning for pulse and temperature taking. This is immediately followed by washing, and after that comes the first of a long series of bed making. Breakfast isn't until eight o'clock, and so you can see that there is a good deal of time to while away between early morning chores and the time when you actually get something to eat. The food, however, when it arrives, is good; and since the officers are charged six pence per day more for it than is charged in the mess, it very well ought to be.

    Bed-making and straightening is the prime evil of hospital life. The nurses and V.A.D.'s are always popping in to fix up one's bed. This operation has nothing to do with one's comfort but is solely for the benefit of an expected visit by a medical officer or the matron. It is an absolute certainty that as soon as one has wriggled oneself into a comfortable state of untidiness, someone will come in to make one starchily uncomfortable again.

    The sisters (i.e. trained nurses) are all members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and hold commissions ranging from the equivalent of a subaltern (sisters) through captain (assistant matron) and major (matron) up to Brigadier. The V.A.D's who do all the dirty work, are volunteers and approximately equivalent to Nurses' Aides. The have recently been incorporated into the army and now come under military law with rank equal that of an A.T.S. private. The don't like it at all. A good deal of our time in hospital was spent in hearing the pros and cons of this new development.

    My room-mate in the "cooler" was a caption in the Royal Artillery who had taken a spill off a motorcycle and had spent about 15 weeks in hospital as a result. He was a most amusing chap with an absolutely limitless supply of highly humorous anecdotes. He was in a Heavy Ack-Ack battery all through the Blitz and had some pretty vivid accounts to give, including the time one of his gunners got his signals slightly mixed and shot the weather-van offf a nearby steeple in mistake for a Jerry.

    After a longish spell in hospital (including about 4 days on M & B, which is some kind of sulphanilimide concoction, which makes you feel as if you're going to die and then afraid you're not.) I got a couple of weeks' leave which I spent down in Sussex. I enjoyed a most agricultural time, including hay-making, cabbage-cutting, potato-digging, berry-picking, Tomato-spraying, cucumber-tieing, lettuce-planting, pea-gathering, weed-hoeing, and lawn-mowing. Very healthful and really quite interesting to someone like me who was never much of a gardener and certainly never thought for a moment of growing anything faintly resembling a vegetable. It is really astounding to see what can be done in the way of so called "Victory Gardens". This place is probably 4 to 5 acres and used to be almost entirely "Garden" - you know flowers, lawn, hedges, etc. Well, in the course of a year these people have converted it into a remarkably productive small scale farm. Cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, carrots, onions, raspberries, goose-berries, currants, hay, potatoes, peas, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus, and odds and ends and ends make up the fruit and vegetable end. Animal husbandry includes rabbits, chickens, two goats, a pony, and now a cow. All this is handled by a stockbroker (foricibly retired by lack of business in the city) and his wife. Total help consists of two very aged men from the village and a friend (forced out of wheat brokerage business by nationalisation) and occasional help from the cook and maid (age 15). They are now completely self-supporting as regards a large part of their fresh food supply, as well as being able to supply a Y.M.C.A. army canteen and numerous friends with a good deal of produce. Of course it means incessant work which has to be combined with Special Police Duty and a weekly day in London on the part of my host, fire-watching on the part of their wheat-brokering friend, and canteen duty on the part of my hostess.

    The middle of this pleasant leave was rocked by my receiving a letter from my colonel saying that he had been asked to supply a Liaison officer for Divisional H.Q., and would I like the job. He added a postscript to say that my compatriots in the regiment were on embarkation leave as a result of sudden action from the War Office. He enclosed a telegram for my reply. I gave it about an hour's good thought - eager to try something new (and which might lead to promotion), reluctant to leave the battalion, hurt that I had missed going abroad. I finally decided to take it, and so here I am. I have been here two days, during which almost everyone at H.Q. has been off on an exercise, so I am not much wider as to my job. I ran into the General on the stairs, was asked whether I was going to like my job, how I was, etc.

    A liaison officer is the lowest form of life at Div. H.Q. His normal job on exercises and in action is to carry the General's instructions to the Brigadiers or to find out instructions for the General from the Corp or Army Commander. In practise he does this and as well is used as handyman around Div.H.Q. - tending the wireless when the officer there is trying to get some sleep, tagging around with the General in case he wants you, etc., etc. Under peace-time conditions - which unfortunately our usual state - the liaison officer's understudy and do the dirty work for the staff officers at Div.H.Q. this probably means a large amount of pen-pushing. this is regrettable. One prays that we shall go abroad soon, but is dubious since this Division has been waiting around for a long time.

    H.Q. works and lives in a largish country house. Inside it might be any other house converted into offices, but outside it is really quite fine. It is far the best place as far as "setting" is concerned that I have been in yet - and I've been in practically every type of place since arriving over here, from sea-side boarding -houses to Nigger huts, with some pretty tasty lines in barracks in between.

    Yesterday by way of introduction, I was given a staff car, a driver, a map, and a large amount of "Bumph" (the usual British expression for paper and particularly the forms, instructions and paraphernalia of red tape so dear to the services) to distribute around the Division. I left at two and got back around 6:30. My first reaction was that I had very much underestimated such people as the RBSC (Service i.e. - supply corps) and the engineers. Infantry and Cavalry units tend to look down on the people who merely keep them in the field - and of course Rifle Regiments look down on everyone, with the possible exception of the Guards, whom they despise. (It's probably very good for morale that everyone should look down on someone else - it keeps them up to the mark - but it makes for poor understanding of what some of the others are like). During the course of my rounds I got very good tea from the Artillery H.Q. and a drink from the R.B.S.C.

    Everyone is excited about Sicily at present, but there is no point in saying anything about it - a) because you probably hear as much, if not more, about it as we do, and b) because the situation will be quite different by the time this reaches you. Sufficient to say that this is the fight day of the invasion and everything seems to be going swimmingly. It is really wonderful to think that we are at last opening up a second Front - even if it is just an Italian Island.

    It was great while on leave to see the Flying Fortresses heading out across the channel in the afternoons. One day I saw three great fleets of them going out - each group was about 40 or 50 strong, and as they went off they left a great sweeping vapour trail behind them, the three trails merged into one in the distance. The noise they make pervades the whole sky, which, together with their great height, often makes them hard to spot for a minute or so, but it's a great sight when you do see them. And then about three hours later you see them coming home, sill in perfect formation.

    This is the end of a rather dull letter, but it brings you my best, Don't hesitate to write and let me know all that goes on at home.

    As ever,
    Michael
     
  4. Asperon Thorn

    Asperon Thorn Junior Member

    For all of you bloodthirsty types this is the first and only letter where he describes any kind of action. In his words, "You didn't write anything gory in letters home, partly because it was hard to write about, but mostly because you didn't want to disturb the people at home." However he later recounts that in Athens, "If you saw an old woman crossing the road you didn't know whether you should help her to safety or shoot her, because she was actually an enemy greek carrying guns and bombs and just stooped over."

    I asked if he could compare what he went through during the siege of Athens with what today's soldiers are going through in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he suspected it was very much the same and he felt for the soldiers' plight. "There's no right answer in those situations."

    Also a mention of another American, Harry Fowler.

    Another note on spelling: "Aeroplanes"
    Papa, is that your doing, or more of your father's spelling?
    It might of been my idea, I never liked the idea of "Airplanes."
    In general?
    Well "aero" is a perfectly good prefix


    Lt. M.L. Lejeune
    11/KRRC
    Central Mediterranean Forces
    c/o Postmaster, N.Y.

    18 February 1945

    Dear

    it is a very long time since I wrote one of these letters. This is, of course, completely my own fault. Partly I was lazy, partly I was busy, but mainly I thought that this is not a particularly successful way of corresponding with one's friends. it is too impersonal, with the result that few people ever answer letters of this kind. However, those of you who did answer seemed to have enjoyed getting a letter, so I shall try again.

    To tell the truth, I cannot for the life of em remember where I was the last time I wrote, so I hardly know where to begin in order to take up the story. After leaving the italian front last June, I went to the Middle East for a period of training, refitting, and rest. During that time I got a week's leave in Alexandria. I haven't had an over-night leave since! But I did get a chance to see a good deal of the Middle East from Tel Avivi in Palestine on the East to Tobruk on the West. I spent one day in Jerusalem, which I didn't care for very much, and in the course of several months became sufficiently well acquainted with such points of interest as Cairo, the pyramids, the Sinai Desert, the Western Desert, the Suez Canal, Port Said, the Sweet-water Canal, Alex, Bardia, Solum, Gaza, and a good deal of great wide open space with nothing in it -- except sand.

    Late in the summer, the battalion began to flout on a sea of rumour, the most persistent aspect of which was that w were going to do a landing in the Balkans. This turned out to be all too true and on D Day we found ourselves sitting in the roadstead outside of the Piraeus. We landed and were greeted with all the paraphernalia of the newly liberated European state. there were cheers and flowers and flags and inscriptions on the walls. The church bells were rung and the populace went wild with joy. I received a rose-bud on the end of the nose and one of my corporals was drenched in Eau de Cologne. Everything went swimmingly for a couple of weeks, but then EAM and ELAS began to kick up trouble. We went out into the provinces in order to help distribute relief and to help with the formation of the new National Guard, which was to take over from the private armies of EAM (Communists) and EDES (Royalists). The local ELAS brigade commander in the area where I was, was a charming man. He frequently came in in the evenings and we would play bad bridge, bidding in equally bad French. Then early in December the shooting began in Athens. Our Greek friends said the most awful things about the ELAS in Athens (the so-called Athens Corps) who he said would spoil everything for the Leftist cause, but nevertheless, both he and we were under orders, so we said good-bye and the next day we moved south towards Athens and he moved north towards Royalist territory.

    It was a memorable move to the South. there was still no hostility between British troops and ELAS, but as we drove down the mountainous roads in our trucks, we were continually overtaking ELAS units who were also moving south. Some had horses, but most were on foot. They were all well armed with British, Italian, and German weapons. Wagons loaded with ammunition and supplies accompanied them. We were, of course, completely and hopelessly outnumbered, and there was every chance that our line of communications would be cut hourly. So we drove as fast as we could and kept heading for Athens. Officially there were still no hostilities between us and ELAS, but we were fired on once on the way down. One man was wounded in the hand. A number of other vehicles following about four hours behind were systematically ambushed. One was killed and the rest taken prisoner. We didn't see them again for seven hectic weeks.

    We finally reached Athens in the dead of night and drove to British-held center of the town through a hail of bullets. Luckily no one was hurt though a number of tires were punctured and truck tops holed. Then began the seige. By next day, the hostilities were well under way. There is no use rehearsing the whole story of the Battle of Athens. It was a rigorous business. In spite of the limitations of a very small area in the middle of the town, it was very much a war of movement. Like Daniel boon defending the stockade, we had to appear more numerous than we were by shifting our positions almost daily. There were essentially three phases to the operation. The first was to relieve British units where were beleaguered in distant parts of the city. The second was to open and maintain a line of communications to the improvised port near Piraeus, and to enlarge and consolidate the area held in the center of the city. And the last was systematically to clear the whole of Athens and Piraeus, which meant street fighting and house searching, neither of them particularly pleasant tasks. Through the operation, we were greatly outnumbered, but we had advantages of interior lines of communication, a few tanks, good discipline and good training. Also we quickly seize and held the high ground, including the Acropolis and Likkavittes. It is true that we also had aeroplanes, but they were not nearly as effective as most people think. Most of their objectives were in or among buildings, and since they did no bombing at all, but relied completely on strafing, not very much damage was done. It is too easy to take cover from strafing planes. I once watched an ELAS gun position being strafed for half an hour, but as soon as the planes went away, the 75's opened up again.

    During the course of the battle I spent my time in such diverse places as: a military academy, a quarry, an office building, a park, a cafe, a palace, an apartment house, somebody's magnificent town house, a garage, a hovel, and many others. One or two nights in each was the usual quota. An embattled city is not a pretty sight. There was probably much less damage than in a big air raid, but nobody cleaned it up and as the weeks went by the city began to look much the worse for wear. ELAS dynamited a lot of buildings and burned a lot more. They made road blocks out of rubble and overturned street cars. There was barbed wire everywhere. Bridges which had been untouched by the Germans when they retreated were blown by ELAS. Mortar bombs from both sides cut most of the wires. There was no light, no water, and no fuel. A large proportion of civilians were sustained by soup kitchens run by the army.

    I hope all the controversy over British policy in Greece has now died down. A lot of very unjust and completely ignorant comments have been made by people who were not in possession of the facts. The correspondents here did a remarkably bad job of reporting the whole affair. Why, I cannot think except that they were fresh from Cairo where they had for a long time been subject to the very strict censorship of MEF. On coming to Greece they automatically came under CMF which imposes less strict political censorship. The correspondents made graceless use of this new found freedom. They came with preconceived distrust of and dislike for British policy and allowed these prejudices to color all their reports. They disregarded the historical facts. Their white-washing of EAM/ELAS was fabricated of wishful thinking, and their blackening of the British was born of wilful ignorance. They did not go out into the provinces to see for themselves. In fact few of them stirred out of the Grande Bretagne Hotel. The British correspondents were just as bad ad the Americans -- in fact probably worse. The troops, of course, were furious. Letters from home soon demonstrated that the British Public was being led up the garden path. I don't suppose than any troops in the whole war have been so deprived of public support as the "handful" who had to fight in the streets of Athens. And yet they were fighting for their lives and for the safety of not only of all he British and Americans in Athens, but also the safety of the majority of the Greeks in Athens. I am a complete believer in Churchill's policy in Greece. Everything he has said has been true. Any other course would have been disastrous to the welfare and prestige of both Britain and Greece. On the other hand I think that revolution, or rather the attempted revolution, has been beneficial to the extend that it has led to a thorough definition of the issues. Britain's policy remains unchanged, but I expect the method of its implementation has be liberalized; which is a good thing.

    Outwardly the revolution is now all over. Certainly the shooting has stopped except in very out of the way areas, where ELAS still take a few pot shots at EDES and vice versa. Athens is now very much a "base" town. The streets are full of soldiers who have never heard the nervous stutter of the spandau or the whiffling of a mortar bomb. ATS have arrived and I heard yesterday that some WACS had been seen. The streets have been cleaned up, the water and power are on again, and the street cars and buses are in service again. Prices continue to be haywire, but now that the army has opened its own clubs and restaurants once can get food and drink at reasonable prices. If you go to the right place you can get eggs at 6d (10 cents) each, although the unwary continue to pay a shilling. Local bottled beer is 1/8 (34 cents) but you have to pay 1/4 on the bottle. Whisky and gin just don't exist, but we drink quantities of the local wines -- Samos (rather like sherry), White Win, Ouzo (an aniseed spirit like Triple Sec), Cognac (sometimes unbelievably spelt "Koniak", and just as synthetic), and of course the win of the country -- Retzina, a thin resinated white wine. The first, second, and third times you try it you think someone has opened the turpentine bottle by mistake, but after that you get used to it. Some British and Americans even claim to like it. I find I can stand it at meals, but not at other times. There is also some stuff called Cherry Brandy, but for some reason we have been forbidden to drink it. It is about the color of dark red nail polish, which may be a clue to the official "verboten".

    Greece is a very beautiful country. it is all hills and every ill seems to be made of solid marble. The occasional valleys are highly cultivated and most picturesque. Everywhere in the wild hills and gullies there are flocks of sheep and goats. The shepherds were thick woolen, hooded, coats, rather like a heavy parka. Some of their cooks are beautifully carved and polished from long use. The high mountains have been snowcapped now since late November, but down on the plain of Attica we have had much beautiful weather. The warm days we have had lately heave lured the crocuses out, and lambs have been skipping about in the traditional way. I have not been up to the Acropolis lately, but before the "troubles" I went up several times. the Parthenon is a beautiful as it has been described. In fact I think it is very near perfection. Even in ruins it is magnificent. It stands high above the city and can be seen from many miles away. Before the Troubles it used to be floodlit on moonless nights. To see it shining above the city really too one's breath.

    The Germans were at pains to leave the country as poor as possible. Many demolitions were carried out. The ports of Piraeus, Volos, and Salonicka have been badly knocked about. The East-West railway from Volos to Kharditas, Trikkala, and Klambaka is, I believe, back in commission, but the North-South Railway from Athens to Thebes, Lamia, Larissa, and Salonika, is so badly demolished that they will probably have to build a new one around by the coast. The roads are in shocking condition. Since The railway is gone, there is no means of communication except by road, but unfortunately the Greeks have no trucks of their on. The ones they had, have either work out in the last four years or have been confiscated by the Germans. I have seen a number of flashy new maroon trucks in Athens inscribed "Gift of the Greek American Relief Society". These will undoubtedly be a help in the Athens area, but they are too flimsy to stand up to much of the grueling road north. These trips will probably continue to be done by the army trucks which have been doing them all along. Nobody seems to be quite sure where UNRRA fits into all this, but I gather that no one ever seems to understand about UNRRA. -- Of course food is by no means the only thing that is needed. Many of the farm implements have ben taken away or have deteriorated for lack of spares. Many have just plain worn out. But most of all, building materials are needed. Destruction was one of the main German methods of countering the activities of the Andartes (Partisans). I have seen whole villages where every house has been shattered. One village I went to had nothing left which was too high to put one's hand on. Most of the people who used to live there had gone away into the mountains, but a few who had remained behind had built themselves hovels out of the debris. It was a most depressing sight. I saw these places before the winter set in. God knows how the people in the mountains and in those wrecked villages have faired during the winter. The help which we were going to take to them they never got, because we were forced to withdraw to Attica to deal with EAM in the capital. so far we have not gone back since these places are all still within the ELAS zone, but I suppose that as soon as soon as ELAS has disarmed (which they have recently promised to do within a few days) British and American help will be able to go out into the provinces again.

    Greece, probably more than any other liberated country, is the testing ground for Allied post-war policy. Its circumstances are probably more desperate than any other, with the exception of Poland. It is very nearly the meeting point of the British and Russian Policy. Already the attempted revolution with was also apparent in France and Belgium has had to be death with more violently than in either of the other two countries. The Greeks are acutely politically minded, but at the same time very week administratively. Left to themselves, little but chaos would result. Their attitude is invariably "Let George do it". They are pitifully anxious that the Allies should remain and straighten things out. Hence it is likely that here in Greece we shall see the success or failure of post war European policy. I think it is right that a firm stand has been taken against the powers of irresponsibility, almost anarchy, which were represented in EAM. It now much be seen wither British policy is equally strong against a push from the Right. And if so, whether Greece can be made to help herself.

    Greek politics, at your distance from them, are probably dull, and I apologize for talking about them so much. But as a matter of fact, there is little else to right about from here. -- Harry Fowler and I continue to be the only American Adventurers left serving with the King's Royal Rifle Corps, but we continue to enjoy it. Harry has just been mentioned in dispatches for gallantry and devotion to duty in Italy last year. He did a very good job there and deserves the award. We know that promotion is still far away and the pay, negligible, but it is still good experience even after two and three quarters years.

    Here's hoping the war will be over soon. Who knows? Meanwhile I hope everything goes well with you. Do write sometime and let me know all your news. It is far too easy to get out of touch.

    I apologize if I have repeated myself and have written about things I have mentioned before in other letters. It is difficult to remember what I have written before, and whom I wrote it to.

    As ever,
    M.L. Lejeune
     
  5. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hi Asperon. The letter above about your relation's time in Greece is very interesting indeed and thank you very much for sharing it with us.

    My father was also in Athens serving with 23rd Armd Bde during the troubles. He was a REME driver at the Brigade Workshops located at the top of the Athens-Pharelon road. Unfortunately for him, the workshops was some 1/2 mile outside the military protected area and just 200 yards across the road from a major ELAS stronghold and HQ, the "Fix Brewery". On 11th Dec 1944, a 7 vehicle convoy leaving the workshops was ambushed by mortar and MG fire from the Brewery and it took 2 Shermans and a Platoon from A Company 11 KRRC to quieten things down. The tanks and KRRC platoon stayed in the vicinity for the next 5 days providing protection to the workshops which were also being used as a forward observation post. On the afternoon of 16th Dec 1944. ELAS mounted a surprise 90 minute long 75mm artillery attack on both the KRRC platoon and the nearby workshops. The brigade workshop was promptly evacuated to Pharelon only returning on 26th Dec 1945 when the area had been cleared.

    If there is anything I can help you with in relation to what 23 Armd Bde were up to in Dec 1944 and Jan 1945, just drop me a PM. I have quite a lot of stuff from the National Archives which may be of use to you.

    Thanks once again

    Gus
     
  6. Sgt Hawk

    Sgt Hawk Member

    This is very interesting , never figured on this. Some more food for thought
     
  7. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    Different regiment, but an American journalist in Shanghai was commissioned into 2/12 Frontier Force Regiment and fought in Malaya. After capture, he escaped from the Death Railway but was recaptured by the Siamese police, handed back to the Japanese and executed:

    Eugene Cowles Pomeroy :poppy:

    An interesting footnote from Compton Mackenzie's Eastern Epic.
     
  8. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    Not sure of the year but one of the post war KRRC journals has information on the Americans that served WW2, I had a copy when young, the KRRC/Rifle Brigade depot was close to our home. Probably bought it for pennies Rifle Green hard back with the KKRC badge and I think a red center section although I would not swear to it. What also sticks in my mind was the foreword, by Major General Hereward Wake, as school kids that name was known from our long history!
     
  9. Philip Barnett

    Philip Barnett Junior Member

    I came across this post while trying to find out about a plaque on a wall in the main street of Maservaux. Which marks the spot where Lionel Mosseri died. Its old but still read able.
     
  10. williams46

    williams46 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Interesting reading, during WW2 I was in an Infantry barrack room and three of the men were Americans, two were conscripted into the British Army, they were Americans visiting their relatives when the war broke out, they were around 14 years old at the time. Many thought the war would only last 3 to 9 months at the most so decided to remain until it was over, plus the fact that Atlantic crossings were dangerous at that time. Of the three the one volunteered for the RAF, he became an air gunner in a bomber and done all his opps, later he was called into the office and was told that he was being transferred for training in the British Infantry. He lost his sergeant rating, thus a reduction in pay as a Private in the British Army. All produced letters from Washington regarding their requests for transfer to the American Armed Forces, they were informed that unless they reached a neutral country there was no hope of being transferred. Some had contacted Washington a number of times but the replies were pretty much the same, they were also warned if they deserted, they would be treated as deserters by the British Authorities and treated as such. Some replies were if the vein, "Well we are all in this together", so offered no recommendation. Only the Ex-RAF American had an American accent, as the others being in Britain since the start of the war had accents of the area they lived in.

    When I entered Primary Training in 1944, 1/3 of the Platoon were RAF (VR) Aircrew, on Deferred Service and most went into the Infantry.

    As a Corporal I took one of our own men inside, he was an American, he had visited his grandmother in north Wales just before war broke out, so was unable to return to the US. Aside for the RAF air gunner none volunteered, as this was in 1944 and living in Britain they knew the difference between pay and conditions of American vs British Armed Forces.
     
  11. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

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