W7710 Halifax B MK 11– 405 SquadronThe Squadron was formed in May 1941 with Wellingtons, began re-equipping with Hallies about a year later, then traded those for Lancasters. 405 Squadron gained fame as a Pathfinder Unit, with its first target marking mission flown from Gransden Lodge, April 26, 1943, to Duisburg. This was 23 days after John Colwell, featured in the following article, was shot down in a Halifax over Holland. Note that W7710 is a Merlin powered Halifax. Many others were powered by Bristol Hercules engines.
John Colwell, a navigator on 405 Squadron, said that they were hit by flak over the target. The Wireless Operator was stretched out on a cushion on the floor of the aircraft over the opening that had been used as the mid-under gun position. He was watching for night fighters attacking from below. The flak hit and drove the cushion out from between his legs but he escaped injury. The aircraft was shot down later that night by a night fighter. John Colwell spent 23 months as a POW.
Nanaimo News Bulletin Sept. 2, 2002
Writings from Second World War POW Camp
become a stunning Archive’ for Comox Air force Museum.
By Rob Shaw
The book’s tattered, yellow paper has seen better days, but the memory of a time spent in a Second World War German POW camp still leap from the pages. Those memories belong to 85-year-old Nanaimo resident, John Colwell, a former Royal Canadian Air Force flight lieutenant.
On August 23, he shared them with the public by donating his personal diary to the Comox Air Museum. The meticulously kept memoirs written in a YMCA issued wartime diary, chronicle his stay in the infamous German POW camp Stalag Luft 111.
Colwell and his bomber crew were shot down over Holland on April 3, 1943. After being captured he was sent to Stalag Luft 111, which would later be the site of the great escape – a botched tunnel escape that saw 76 Allied airmen captured. 50 prisoners were later shot.
Calwell was a “penguin”, someone who helped to move the nearly 85 tons of sand needed to clear the tunnels. In the diary entry March 25, 1944, Colwell describes the fateful morning the Germans discovered the breakout.
“I awoke about 5:15 a.m. to learn that the tunnel had been found. Two goons were in the hut with their dogs. I burned all my papers etc. and threw all my chocolate and food out the window… at 6:30 we were taken outside, stripped and searched individually. It was a very cold morning with driving snow. All the ferrets and guards were around us with drawn and cocked revolvers.”
With vivid descriptions and a collection of drawings, clippings, and personal entries, military officials called the book one of the most significant diaries in the Second World War.
Sketch of John Colwell's room at Stalag Luft 111
At the time Colwell was known by fellow POW’s as the “tin basher.” His unique ability to turn old powdered milk tins into functional objects such as coffee pots, cups, kettles, pots, pans, water heaters, stoves and even a kitchen sink earned him a camp-wide reputation. German officers recognized Calwell’s talent, and when he offered to fashion an artificial tin leg for a fellow POW, the German agreed to the project.
“I just said I’ll make him a tin one,” says Colwell. “The Germans were very obliging. The CO even allowed us to go to their workshop.”
Detailed descriptions of his other tin projects are showcased in the diary, including plans for a working tin clock. In fact, Colwell created two tin clocks using wire, part of a checkerboard, tin, wristwatch spring and a toothbrush handle. Clock gear ratios were figured out manually, and, says Colwell, it kept fairly decent time.
I’m trying to reproduce (a clock) now,” says Colwell. I have the plans in the logbook but so far I haven’t completed another one. I thought if I can get it done I’ll bring it up here and give it to the museum.” It would be a welcome addition, says Bob Richter, curator of the museum, who explained he’s just pleased to have access to the diary.
“Its an absolutely stunning archive,” says Richter. “This book is good enough to make it into the National War Museum, but Mr. Colwell wants it to stay on the Island. Thank God for that..”
The diary now sits in the Museum’s Second World War section under a protective case. Beside the display is a colour copy of the book for public viewing.
Colwell admits he didn’t want so much publicity for his diary. He had just planned to stop by the museum and drop he book off. Instead, television, radio, and newspaper reporters descended upon the event, and told his story clear across Canada.
Bob Middlemass, a family friend and a former Lancaster mid-upper gunner in the RCAF, encouraged Colwell to make his diary public. “Its history and you don’t want to lose it,” he says.
Observing the attention from across the room was Colwell’s family, including wife Fern, daughter Pat, son-in-law Robbie and daughter Cherie.
“ I didn’t expect this much,” says Pat as a steady stream of flash bulbs popped around her father’s face. “But just seeing his face light up like that was great. He’s on cloud nine.”
Many thanks to Bob Middlemass for this article. Rob Shaw, the reporter, is Bob’s Grandson who is taking journalism at Ryerson ‘U’ in Toronto.
The Great Escape
During the Second World War, 76 POW’s escaped by a man-made tunnel. All but three of those who escaped were recaptured and 50 were executed contrary to the Geneva Convention. Today, the site where the Great Escape took place lays barren occupied only by rows of planted trees.
An international Great Escape Memorial Committee was struck in November 2000, with a mandate to establish a memorial site in Zagan, Poland to ensure the memory of 50 prisoners of war who were executed at the German Luft Waffe Camp, Stalag 111 in Sagan, Germanmy (now Zagan, Poland) and all those involved in this historic event.
It was deemed necessary by the committee to commission the design and construction of a memorial site that would mark the entrance and exit of the man made tunnel. It is hoped the addition of this monument will increase awareness of this historical event through education as well as serve as a location for those who lost family members to grieve and find closure.
Currently the Great Escape Memorial Foundation committee consists of Paul Tobolski (Calgary) – son of Pawel Tobolski murdered by the Gestapo for his role in planning the Great Escape, Carrie Tobolski (Calgary) – granddaughter of Pawel Tobolski, Sidney Dowse (Monaco) – former POW and survivor of the Great Escape, Jan Bartelski (England) – a retired World War 11 pilot, Andrew Wiseman (England) – former POW from Stalag 111, Captain S. Wandzilak (deceased), and Ludwik Martel (England) – last remaining Polish Battle of Britain pilot.
A local Calgary chapter of the International Great Escape Memorial Foundation was recently formed. This chapter was spearheaded by Carrie Tobolski and included Paul Tobolski as well as POW survivors, family, friends, and those with an interest in this historical event. Due to the overwhelming response to or public awareness campaign launched on September 23, 2002, a number of interested persons both locally and nationally have contacted us and expressed an interest in supporting and participating n this worthwhile endeavour.
In November 2001, Carrie Bobolski and Calgary architect, Ryan Scarff travelled to Zagan, Poland and met with the Mayor, the Zagan Municipal Council and the Cultural Minister to discuss the project. Full written support was granted to pursue this project and the land was designated for this project.
For further information see:
View from entrance to exit of tunnel
as it exists today.
Sectional model view of memorial at tunnel entrance.
Sectional model view of memorial at tunnel exit.
Sectional model view of memorial chapel.
North American Fundraising
Phone (403) 245-6693
Fax (403) 245-8193
c/o 66 Raymond Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 4AL
North American Project Coordinator
Carrie Tobolski (granddaughter of flight lieutenant Pawel Tobolski)
Further to my last email it has been only quite recently that I became aware of the "Short Burst" web page so I have been occupied going through past issues. Needless to say I am deeply appreciative of your efforts in this regard. How sad it would be if some of the experiences noted would pass into history only in the memory of those who experienced them. And if others are like me, wartime memories are becoming more cherished as time passes (probably age related). Particularly of the boys, our friends and contemporaries, whose short lives were cut off at the knees. Related is a feeling of humility in that we returned and they didn't. But there is also a feeling of pride in that we shared experiences with the finest group of boys that could be put together.
Now re your request for anecdotes that might be of interest. I am a bit hesitant to relate wartime experiences knowing that many of your readers are my peers in experiences both in and out of the ordinary. Actually my 50 plus ops were, for the most part, pretty routine with the occasional minor "prang" and our aircraft being ventilated with a few pieces of stray flak. I never baled out, never ditched, was never shot down and apart from a couple of strafing exercises never fired my guns. Enemy aircraft were sighted on occasion but they always seemed to be going after someone else.
However on what turned out to be the last trip of our second tour we did have an adventure that probably few other crews experienced. On Sept 14, 1944 we ran into heavy flak over Dortmund and took quite a beating. Our tail gunner (Jimmy Flood from Toronto , on his 66th trip), was killed and our pilot (Russ Curtis from Erie, Penn.) seriously wounded. Our bomb aimer (Dougal MacGillivray from Dalkeith, Ont.) took over the controls and put into practice what he had learned in his one session on a link trainer. Although never having been at the controls of an aircraft before he flew it like a veteran to a somewhat precarious landing at an emergency RAF airdrome in East Anglia. I don't remember much of the trip home but one thing I do remember was looking up in the cockpit and seeing Dougal at the controls with his helmet off to one side and, although he may have been churned up inside, looked as calm and collected as would a veteran pilot. I think I knew then that we were going to get home and down safely.
Russ recovered from his head injury - a piece of flak had cut a groove through the top of his head. The rest of us returned to base and a few days later attended Jimmy's burial in the Canadian section of Brookwood cemetery in Surrey. And a month or so later in mid-October, with the exception of Russ, we were on our way home for the last time.
Dougal and I are the only members of the crew still alive with our fond memories of the others---Russ; Charlie Wattie, navigator (from Barrie Ont.) and Hugh Smith, wireless operator (from Niagara Falls Ont.); who all passed away over a decade ago.
A further note on Dougal: Dougal went overseas in late 1941 as one of ours--a w/ag. At that time four motored aircraft were on the horizon with the crew format changed from that on the old mainstream two motored Wellingtons, Hampdens and Whitleys. On Wellingtons, for example the crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator ( or observer) who had the bomb dropping responsibilities, two wireless operators, one of whom occupied the front turret, and a tail gunner. With the advent of four motored aircraft the crew, as most will remember, was reduced to one pilot and one wireless operator, with the addition of a bombaimer, an engineer and a mid upper gunner. Hence Dougal arrived overseas when wireless operators were in excess and bomb aimers in short supply. As a result Dougal and some of his classmates were given minimal training and remustered as bomb aimers. Dougal survived a first tour in 1942/43 on Stirlings.
Incidentally both the w/ag and bombaimer fraternities can claim Dougal as one of the very few of their vocation to be awarded a DSO.
As an aside I might also add that our group that went overseas in June 1941 started ops approximately equally divided between Wellingtons and Hampdens. Some RCAF early birds can probably relate operational experiences on Whitleys
(Ed. We don’t have a picture of Bob but if you happen to have "RCAF at WAR 1939-1945" by Milberry and Halliday on page 316 there is a picture of Dougal McGillivray, Russ Curtis, and Bob Marshall, taken at the 1988 Winnipeg Reunion.”
Good evening John, here is some gen on a new Member.
New member: Dave Fraser, No.414, 6703 - 172 Street, Edmonton, Alberta. T5T 6H9. Phone: (780) 487-9998. Dave served at No.2 Manning Depot, Brandon, Manitoba, No.2 Wireless School, Calgary, Alberta, and graduated as a WAG at No.2 B&G Mossbank, Saskatchewan. He flew out of North Africa with the 12th Bombardment Group USAAF. (See the December Short Bursts for full story)
To the Editor Short Bursts:
I recently read the October web page with Jim Flick's story of his Berlin - Swedish experience. It brought back a memory of a meeting in a London pub (remember the Universal Brasserie) with Jim's pilot and others of whom Jim may have been one .
When I went to an RAF Advanced Flying Unit as an instructor between tours one of the Canadian pilots on the station was a chap named Smith - I've forgotten his first name so I just remember him as Smittie. In any event, shortly after my arrival, Smittie left to go on ops. A short time later word got back to the station that he was missing on ops.
Some time later - probably around mid 1944 I was on leave in London and dropped in to the Universal Brasserie, as many of us usually did hoping to meet someone we knew, and there was Smittie sitting at the back with others - perhaps his crew (and Jim might remember if he was there.) I can recall Smittie telling me of his recent return from Sweden and some of his experiences there, including playing hockey. So there is a possibility that Jim and I had a long forgotten meeting.
I don't recall meeting Smittie again but It is nice to know he managed to safely complete his tour. If possible John perhaps you could pass this along to Jim.
I note that Jim returned to Canada in Oct. 1944 as I did, after completion of my second tour. Perhaps we were on the same boat the name of which I have forgotten but it was probably one of the Queens.
All the best.
email: rgm @sympatico.ca
HI, MY NAME IS LAURI APPLEBY.
I WAS RECENTLY FEATURED IN THE SHORT BURSTS NOVEMBER. I WANT TO THANK EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THIS PROGRAM. YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THE JOY OF REMEMBRANCE THIS YEAR. I AM SO PLEASED TO SEE MY ESSAY AGAIN. MY ORIGINAL COPY WAS LOST MANY YEARS AGO. THIS LITTLE PIECE OF WRITING BRINGS MY HEART TO A PLACE OF THANKFULNESS AND REMEMBRANCE. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF THERE IS ANY WAY I CAN GET A COPY OF THE ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT IT WAS PUBLISHED IN. IT WOULD MEAN A GREAT DEAL.
I AM EMAILING FROM A FRIENDS COMPUTER SO I LEAVE YOU MY INFORMATION.
970 RONLEA AVE
THANK YOU ALL AGAIN
(Ed. We sent Laurie three copies of Short Bursts: 1. featuring Alfred Hawkin’s Last Post; 2. containing Laurie’s tribute to her Grandfather; 3. the Final Issue of Sept. 2000, as well as a tape of Alf’s talk at an Ontario Ex-Ag’s luncheon.)
NORTH SASKATCHEWAN BRANCH
A well attended Christmas dinner was held at Lynx Wing in Saskatoon Dec. 9th, 2002. Your Editor had the good fortune to travel by bus to Saskatoon for this function.
President Smokey Robson said grace and there was a minute silence for those comrades who have left us. As usual the caterers served a delicious meal complete with wine.
Following the meal we were entertained by Ray Dahlen’s group which regaled us with wartime songs and Christmas carols. The group, with the exception of Louise, has been entertaining since 1950. (Maybe Louise has been entertaining since ’50, but I was too shy to ask) The members are:
Ray Dahlen, (ex-Army) guitar; Monty Salkeld (ex-RCAF) key board; Mel Dahlen, (ex-RCAF) tenor sax and vocals; Louise Dahlen, (Mel’s daughter) vocals.
If any senior’s group would like to retain them, Ray’s phone number is (306) 382-1916
Doreene would like to thank Member Fred Burnyeat (my Class Senior, 20th. Entry, Calgary W/S) for looking after me in the big city of Saskatoon, keeping me sober, giving lodging, transportation and, most of all, a chance to share memories.
Thanks chaps, may we be around to do it again next year.John Moyles
NORTHERN ALBERTA BRANCH
The Northern Alberta Branch of the Air Gunners held their Christmas Luncheon on December 16 at the Norwood Legion in Edmonton. The luncheon was attended by 44 members and wives and a good time was had by all. The usual Christmas fare was served, Turkey, Ham in raisin sauce, dressing etc. augmented by some tasty Ukrainian dishes. The main course was followed by some tasty desserts designed to satisfy every sweet tooth. A draw was held and a total of $200 worth of prizes were given out. We look forward to some good times in the coming year and we take this opportunity to wish AGs and WAGs all across the country much health and happiness in 2003.Ted and Gene Hackett
ROGERS, Frank, #434 of CAMROSE, AB: Enlisted as R113430, Frank passed away on December 04, 2002. He was born on March 23, 1920 and enlisted in the RCAF June 21, 1941. Following #2 Manning Depot at Brandon and #3 Wireless School in Winnipeg he graduated at a WAG from #8 B&G at Lethbridge, AB. He took his OTU training at #32, Patricia Bay, BC and served with #9 BR Squadron on the west Coast of Canada and Alaska. He was commissioned as J37365.
THOMPSON, Thorb, #725, of ABERNATHY, SK: Passed away December 14th, 2002 at the age of 87. He enlisted as R176195 and served overseas with #426 "Thunderbird" Squadron, was commissioned J89485 and awarded the DFC. His license plate number read "HALLY-F" and he was a 'shirt-tail relative' of Doreen Moyles.
Most of us have read first person accounts written by airmen, at first for their children and grandchildren, and eventually published in book form. These accounts usually follow the common journey from Manning Depot to Operations and at times, can be very predictable.
THE HUNDREDTH AIRMAN
by Reg Stead and Murray Straker
Soft cover 260 pages 24 illustrations.
Parkland Printers Ltd., 12-3rd Ave. North, Yorkton, SK S3N 1B9
Copyright 2000 ISBN:0-9687584-0-1
Ph. – (306) 782-8211 Fax: (306) 782-8564
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Casualty statistics maintain that, out of every 100 aircrew in Bomber Command, one would become an Evader. F/O Peter Anaka, a farm boy from Stenen, Saskatchewan, was a “Hundredth Airmen.”
THE HUNDREDETH AIRMAN is different. It is a breath of fresh air. The reason being, it was written by two chaps who did extensive, in-depth research with one purpose, to relate the experience of one Bomber Command Pilot who, in four short years, became symbolic of the sacrifices made by these young men, and set upon a literary task to make sure Peter Anaka’s experiences, and those of the brave people who assisted him, were not forgotten.
The writers use poetic license to bring the characters alive. Peter as a young harum-scarum riding his prized bike around the community, telling young girls about “milking the chickens”, dialog between AC1 Anaka and his drill corporal at Manning Depot, his instructors during flying training, OTU, Con. Unit, conversations during crew selection in the local pub and on Ops, breathes life into the characters.
The writers did extensive research into the Resistance movement whose members, risking certain death, harboured Peter Anaka. It is the detail, description and dialog, portraying Peter’s Evader experiences which keeps the reader glued to the page. How many RCAF personnel were commandeered into army service by none other than General Paton! But I will not spoil the suspense.
In the Forward Reg Stead writes in part: “Sadly it is true that our nation’s heroes – our real down to earth, honest-to-goodness heroes – are often unrecognized and sometimes even ignored. Yet it is not entirely too late to make amends for our failure to accord them the respect and honour they so richly deserve. We who have benefited so profoundly from their selfless sacrifices must take on the responsibility to ensure that they remain no longer overlooked. By recording their exploits, we do both them and ourselves an immeasurable service.”
Reg Stead and Murray Straker have fulfilled their objective by giving us a descriptive, suspense filled account, of F/O Peter Anaka’s experiences as well as those of his crew, and the brave Resistance fighters who sheltered Peter Anaka and other Allied Airmen at tremendous personal risk.
I could not put this book down. It will be a valued addition to your WWII memorial book case.Review by John Moyles
Peter Anaka & Bill (US Pilot)
About the Authors:Reg Stead was born in the Anglo-Welsh border town of Ludlow in 1930. Over the years Reg has put his literary talents to good use, writing a number of plays, short stories and contributing articles for quarrying magazines. This book is Reg’s first major work. In retirement he has become a respected landscape artist and the cover of this book is a reproduction of one of his paintings. Reg now lives in Edmonton, AB.
Reg Stead and Murray Straker
Murray Straker was born on a farm near Dubuc, Saskatchewan in 1934. During the war years Murray became fascinated by the aircraft that flew overhead from the nearby Yorkton Air Training Base. Those sightings nurtured an absorbing interest in planes, pilots, and aircrew, which he retains to this day. Murray has become a recognized authority on World War II aircraft. Knowledge, and an enquiring mind, has made him a commendable researcher. Talents put to good use in the collecting and verifying of the facts upon which this book is based.
Murray lives with his wife Barb in Saltcoats, Saskatchewan.
The book contains stories from 29 aircrew, some submitted two articles, others more. Flight Into Yesterday, all 482 pages, is packed with wartime pictures, cartoons, especially our favourite example of “what not to do”, P/O Prune.
Flight Into Yesterday
Stories from Members of the
Wartime Aircrew Club of Kelowna, BC
by Les Perkins, F/O Ret.
Suite 6E, 2333 Government St. Victoria, BC. V8T 4P4
Tel. (250) 383-6864 Fax. (250) 383-6804 email@example.com
Les Perkins spent seven years writing the stories he collected from former second world war airmen who lived in the Okanaga Valley, BC. All the stories here are from men who are neighbours and members of the Wartime Aircrew Club of Kelowna BC. The book is filled with tales by all members of aircrew, pilots, gunners, wireless operators, flight engineers, navigators, bomb aimers.
Because of the extensive variety of experiences related, Flight Into Yesterday touches on a wide spectrum of aircrew life in all Commands, Training, Bomber, Coastal, Transport, service in Canada, Europe, Middle East, and Far East.
This is a book with many a serious account and many humorous anecdotes regarding World War II. Les Perkins has done an excellent job putting this book of memories together.John Moyles
You will see reference to the Wartime Aircrew Club of Kelowna, BC. I am informed by Ross Hamilton (who has articles in the book, Flight Into Yesterday) that this club is unique, no officers, no dues, no minutes of meetings, just chaps enjoying a common past. Now that’s my kind of organization!
Don’t forget the Aircrew Association Bash planned for Vancouver this Spring:
Regarding the above article, The Great Escape, it is suggested that this would be a worthwhile cause for our Ex-AG Branches to consider supporting. Don’t forget our Web Page benefactor the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, Manitoba.
Aircrew Association Reunion
April 18th - 20th April 2003
Contact person Ken Pask firstname.lastname@example.org
or Jamie MacGregor (250) 477-8972
Registration - $150.00 per person.
Ken Pask advises that registration is limited to 400
and that they are currrently at 85%.
Send Cheque to:
P.O. Box 43022 Victoria North P.O.
Victoria, B.C. V8X 3G2
Ron Bramley, in his Editor’s Report in THE TURRET, RAF Ex-Air Gunner’s Association Newsletter, advises that their National Association will be standing down March 31st. 2003. The Branches will continue to function independently and the Nottingham Branch have volunteered to form a “Turret” Committee as a means to keep the Branches in touch with each other.
Doreene and I thank those Members who sent us cards and good wishes this Christmas season. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2003.
Ste. 233 - 1060 Dorothy St.,
Regina, Sask. S4X 3C5 CANADA
Ph. (306) 949-6112
"For she's a jolly good fellow!"
Southern Ontario Chapter
Royal Canadian Legion
Wilson Branch 527
948 Sheppard Avenue West
We meet the first Wednesday of each month at the Legion hall 1:00 pm.
No meetings July, August, September.
Ken Hill ~ President ~ 905.789.1912
Bill Cockburn ~ Secretary ~ 416.492.1024
Location - Royal Canadian Legion Br.#4 St. James Legion.
Date - Second Thursday of each month.
Time - Luncheon meeting (provide your own lunch).
Contact Member - Charlie Yule Ph. (204) 254-6264.
Location - Lynx Wing Ave. C North, Saskatoon.
Date - Third Monday of the month.
Time - Luncheon meetings.
Contact Member - C.A. "Smokey" Robson Ph. (306) 374-0547.
Northern Alberta Branch
Location - Norwood Branch 178, 11150 – 82 Street, Edmonton, AB
Date - Third Tuesday of each month.
Time - 12:00 hours.
Contact Members - E. H. "Ted" Hackett (780)962-2904
or Sven Jensen (780)465-7344.
Location - Royal Canadian Legion #264
Date: Second Monday of each month.
Time - 11:30 hours.
Contact Member: Dave Biggs Ph: (403)236-7895
or Doug Penny Ph: (403)242-7048.
October meeting time moved to third Monday.
Also there are no meetings in July and August, however, a Barbecue is usually held at Larry Robinson's ranch in Okatoks during that time.
British Columbia Branch
Meeting time and local: 2nd Tuesday of each month at 11:30
send current information regarding
regular meeting places, dates, and Contact Members, to
John and Doreene Moyles,
Members are requested to send their experiences, articles, anecdotes, pictures, etc., to John Moyles and I will forward them to our Web Master in Brandon. Articles and Last Post items will be deleted from the page each month after the designated Member in each region has had an opportunity to copy the material for their Members. Notices of deceased Members are to be sent to Charlie Yule who is still our 'Keeper of the Rolls'. This is your SHORT BURSTS with no printing or mailing costs, and no deadlines! The Brandon Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum has agreed to host our AG page. However, as it costs the Museum $35.00 per month to maintain the Web Page, it is suggested that each Ex-AG group contribute periodic donations to the Museum to help off-set this expense, and to enhance the work they are doing. We thank our Web Master, Bill Hillman, for his volunteer time and expertise.
Donations can be made directly to:
Box 3, Grp. 520, RR5,
Brandon, MB R7A 5Y5
Read Them All The Way Back To March 2001
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