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Belgian Guests at Rushden
'Stonehurst' became known as the 'Belgian House'

The Rushden Echo, 30th October 1914 , transcribed by Gill Hollis

Belgian Party at Rushden - Evidences of German Cruelty - Thirty Non-Combatants Shot
A lad bereaved of father, mother, brother, and sister

A party of Belgian refugees, five in number, arrived at Rushden on Tuesday night, as the guests of the employees of the Central Machinery Co., Rushden, and they are now being comfortably housed at the Park-road Co-operative Stores, excellent premises being placed at their disposal. A representative of the “Rushden Echo” had an interview with the refugees on Wednesday. Four of the five speak little except Flemish. One, however, an intelligent youth, speaks French, but not fluently and not with the Parisian accent. The interview, therefore, was under difficulties, the youth in question acting as interpreter, and the conversation being mainly in French.

The refugees – writes our representative – comprise five. First, there are a gentleman, apparently of the tradesman class, and his wife, who come from Malines. Then there is a working man, probably about 30 years of age, and with him is his nephew, a lad of 10 or 12 years old; and these come from Kaarschot. Fifthly, there is the youth, about 18 years old, through whom mainly I had to talk to the other refuges. Happily, he could understand my French and I could understand his. He comes from Wanfercee, Baulet.

The quarters allotted to the party struck me as being eminently suited for the purpose. The large hall upstairs is utilised as dining-room and sitting-room combined, with part of it partitioned off temporarily to form two bedrooms. The large room presented quite a cosy and comfortable appearance when I visited the refugees, and several bunches of chrysanthemums from sympathiser add to the home-like appearance.

Behind the shop, on the ground floor, has been provided accommodation for culinary purposes, a gas cooking stove being among the fittings.

I found that the refugees had lost all their luggage, but there is hope of some of it, at any rate, being restored to them. The gentleman to whom I first alluded showed me a guarantee furnished by the French Government for the recovery of his lost trunk.

My interpreter is evidently anxious to make himself acquainted with the English language, for he showed me a cheap French-English translation book, and said he was studying the phrases. First of all, I gave them a cordial welcome to Rushden, which they all understood; but they had great difficulty in pronouncing the name of the town.

The gentleman from Malines stated that the town in question had been bombarded no fewer than five times. His own house had been destroyed by a bomb. His wife told me, in a sort of Dutch German, which I could just understand, that the windows of Malines Cathedral and the pictures inside the sacred edifice were of a most artistic character and very antique. Tears came into her eyes, and she lifted up her hands in horror as she told me of the wilful destruction of the Cathedral by the German soldiers.

I asked them if they had seen for themselves any signs of German barbarities besides the destruction of the Cathedral, and they replied emphatically in the affirmative, holding up their hands to emphasise their statement. As an instance, they told me they themselves had seen 30 non-combatants shot by a number of German soldiers, for no valid reason whatever. They told me they left Malines via Anvers (Antwerp), Ostend, and Folkestone, and had been in London 15 days before coming to Rushden.

Speaking next to the third man to whom I have referred, I could not help noticing how dejected and woebegone he appeared to be, but he seemed quite pleased when I shook hands with him. When I inquired about his little nephew he went to the bedroom and brought him to me, evidently awakened out of sleep. By the way, the little chap had to sleep in his day shirt, as he had no night attire. There is a tragic tale connected with this poor little fellow. His father, mother, brother, and sister had all been killed by the German soldiers, and the lad is the only remaining member of the family.

The Rushden Echo, 6th November 1914, transcribed by Gill Hollis

A Touching Incident - An Aged Belgian Lady in Tears
Evidence of German Cruelties - Nineteen Refugees Safely Housed

The Belgian Guests
The nineteen Belgian Guests
Rushden’s guests, 19 representatives of the gallant little nation of Belgium, that has given and is giving us so much valuable assistance in our struggle against the Kaiser and his legions, arrived in Rushden on Monday by the 4.30 train.

Never for one moment was their welcome in doubt. We feel pleased and proud that we are able to find food, clothing, and a roof for those who have given us all they hold dear, in our combined defence of the cause of freedom and justice. A fair number of townsfolk assembled at the station to give them a welcome, and a number of boot operatives who had assembled outside Mr. Allebone’s factory could not forbear to cheer as the little band passed by to the home provided for them.

And yet there was something pathetic about it all, and this was brought home poignantly to many who witnessed the arrival of the refugees, by the sight of a poor old Belgian lady, down whose cheeks the tears were streaming, as she was assisted to alight from the railway carriage. The sight toughed many a responsive chord in the hearts of the onlookers, and nobody was ashamed of the tears that welled to their eyes at this touching incident. This poor old lady is 76 years of age, and is accompanied by her grandson.

Amongst the refugees is also

A Belgian Soldier,

who was wounded in the battle of Furnes by shrapnel. He proudly displays scars on his head and left leg to a representative of the “Rushden Echo,” and also showed a souvenir given him by an English soldier, in the shape of a regimental badge, of which he is very proud and which he wears on his watch. This Belgian soldat appeared to the “Rushden Echo” representative to be the life of the party; in fact, he is toujours gai, none of his unpleasant experiences having apparently damped his spirits. By trade he is a slipper maker, and was considerably amused when it was explained to him that he was described on his registration papers as a builder.

The party also includes one or two bootmakers, a gardener, a gas fitter, and a bookbinder. The composition of the party is as follows:- A man, wife, and 3 children; a man with his sister and mother; a soldier; a man and wife, with two sons and one daughter, a man and his grandmother; a father and daughter; and a single man.

Amongst the company present at the station to meet the refugees were Messrs. J. S. Clipson, J.P., F. Knight, J.P., R. F. Knight, W. M. Hensman, T. W. C. Linnitt, Father O’Gorman, etc.

The refugees were taken straight to the comfortable home provided for them, where they were provided with their first meal, consisting of hot Bovril, bread and butter, and cakes. We understand their daily meals will be as follows :-

Breakfast, café au lait, bread and butter; dinner, soup, meat and vegetables; supper, café au lait and bread and butter.

Valuable assistance was rendered the committee on Monday by Mons. Roofthooft, a Belgian gentleman who is the guest of Miss Whitehead at Shelton. Although he has been in England but two or three weeks Mons. Roofthooft can make himself easily understood in English, and on Monday rendered incalculable service as interpreter.

One of the refugees, Mr. De Vries, asked by a “Rushden Echo” representative whether he had seen any of the


with which the German soldiers are so freely charged, replied, in a mixture of French and broken English, that he had himself seen little children killed by the Germans at Malines (Mechlin). He added that he knew many cases in which the German soldiers had entered the houses of the people and had taken away their clothing and other articles.

The wounded soldier, in answer to our representative’s questions, said in French that he felt a great deal better now. The wound in the cheek was healing, and the wound in the leg was going on very satisfactorily. The injury to the face had, however, impaired his hearing, and he could not yet hear very well. He liked England very much indeed, he added. After being injured, he was taken to a hospital in Antwerp. It was near Ostend that he met with his wounds. He saw a great deal of fighting and took part in many battles.

'Stonehurst' - it became known as the Belgian House
“Have you yourself seen any


on the part of the Germans?” asked our reporter.

“Yes, indeed I have,” he answered, “I have seen wounded soldiers of the Allied forces lying helpless on the ground, and the Germans have bayoneted them and killed them.”

The premises in which our Belgian guests are being entertained is admirably adapted for the purpose. The members of the House Committee of the Rushden Belgian Relief Committee have worked magnificently to get everything in order for the reception of the refugees. Seven bedrooms have been furnished, plainly but comfortably; there are two sitting rooms downstairs; a bathroom is available; and there is a spacious room in the yard, which can be used as a dining room, recreation room, etc. A kitchen garden at the rear will probably provide work for some of the men. Nearly all the bedsteads for the guests have been given or lent. Mr. Bert Sanders, of Messrs. Whiting and Co., has promised to lend a piano for the house for an indefinite time.
The Rushden Echo, 25th December 1914, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Belgian Guests at Rushden
Refugee’s Glowing Tribute to Local Hospitality - To The Editor of The “Rushden Echo”

Dear Sir,

Christmas Day will soon be here, and at this time of the year, in all countries, is produced a revival of good wishes, when all our little errors are pardoned, thus giving birth to the best conjugal reconciliation. It is also a time when one makes an effort to devote oneself to these annual writings with the aim of giving satisfaction to their parents, aunts, uncles, and numerous friends, by sending them agreeable little cards replete with respectful and affable sentiments and also their best wishes.

Alas ! the Belgian refugees in England are this year deprived of this charm that they held so dear, because their parents, relations, and friends are even now in a distressed and dangerous country with no means permitted them of comforting their people by these old traditions. Yet our duty prescribes that we must not alarm ourselves, and that we think at the same time of those that have given us evidences of all their sympathy since Nov. 2nd, the date we were made welcome to Rushden.

Also I am authorised by the Belgian refugees in Rushden to address the people of this locality on their behalf, to witness our acknowledgment and our wishes of gladness for Christmas.

Respecting the committee formed for the refugees, my pen cannot trace here the feelings of gratitude and thanks which we feel to them when we think of the tediousness, the pains, and the invaluable devotion they have made for us since our arrival, and I must not miss the occasion that I have to-day of making a most respectful eulogy for the ardent hospitality which we received. The establishment placed at our disposal is entirely desirable in this respect. It is comfortable, large, and well aired, and we have everything necessary to mitigate our painful situation. We have proper and well-arranged dormitories, a large dining room where we can take our meals in comfort, some warm sitting rooms, and different kinds of games to pass our leisure time agreeably, and where we are daily visited by the members of the honourable and worthy committee, who, at all hours of the day, without ceasing, interest themselves in our trying situation.

I render homage and our most sincere gratitude to our kind matron, Madame Bishton, who with all the valued aptitudes is at all times a precious interpreter for us, and always gives us motherly care which passes all limits.

In one word, we acknowledge that the endeavours of our benefactors are untiring and that we have found ourselves impotent to describe the expressions that should be necessary for paying this high debt. Surely our sojourn in England will be regarded by us with everlasting and sweet thoughts. It is to be believed that one day we shall be recalled to our native country and this will be good tidings, and the large-heartedness that we bear towards you when we separate from you and you speak a lasting and unforgettable “Au revoir.”

I finish this letter to you by wishing you a happy and joyous Christmas and a very sincere thanks of

Rushden Dec. 22nd

Belgian Salvationist's FutureIn honour of the return to Rushden of Miss Louie Biefnot after a visit to her parents in Belgium, and also to welcome back home Songster-Leader Jack Dix, demobilised after 3½ years' service in the Navy, a "welcome home" meeting was held on Sunday evening at the Salvation Army Barracks. Suitable selections were given by the band. Miss Biefnot will shortly go to a Salvation Army Training College to train as an officer.

Rushden Echo, 1st January 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

Seven More Belgian Refugees arrived at Rushden on Tuesday, seeking accommodation at the Belgian House. Unfortunately the new guests cannot be entertained, as the house is already full, consequently they were accommodated at the Queen Victoria Hotel pending other arrangements. We understand, however, that it is doubtful whether they will be able to remain in the town, as a scheme for providing a male dormitory at the Belgian House is not at present practicable.

Rushden Argus, 1st January 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

Belgians—On Tuesday seven Belgians arrived at Rushden for the "Belgian House" and they were entertained at the Victoria Hotel, as there is not sufficient accommodation in the house for them. We understand that their arrival was not anticipated, and that they will not be able to stay in Rushden. There was some idea of furnishing a loft at the house for a male dormitory, but at present this cannot be carried out.

Rushden Echo, 1st January 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

“Ambulance Children”—Upwards of 130 children of Rushden Ambulance men on active service, with the juvenile Belgian refugees, had a capital entertainment at the Church Institute on Boxing Day. Tea was provided and supervised by Mesdames G Toby, Oakins, S Clark, and D Cave. The Rector (Rev P E Robson) and the Curate (Rev W Pelham) welcomed the children. An operetta, “Dick Whittington,” was given and thoroughly appreciated by the youngsters. As the party left, each child received a box of chocolates, a banana, and an orange. Mrs Clark and Mrs Toby were the instigators of the entertainment.

Rushden Echo, 1st January 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

More Belgian Refugees - Higham Ferrers and Chelveston Combine
Wounded Belgian Soldier’s Experiences - How the Germans Hate the British
English prisoners practically Starved

Twelve representatives of the gallant little nation of Belgium that so upset the plans of big “Willie” were accorded a right royal welcome at Higham Ferrers on Tuesday.

As we have previously reported, Higham Ferrers is joined by the neighbouring parish of Chelveston in giving hospitality to a number of Belgian refugees, and, with this object in view, the house on the Market-square at Higham Ferrers, formerly occupied by the late Alde. C Jolley, was obtained at a nominal rental and suitably furnished. The house, which is admirably appointed and eminently suited for the purpose, contains five bedrooms, a dining room, two sitting rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and a further very large room which is to be used as a recreation room, or which can be utilised as a bedroom is necessary.

The guests were met at Wellingborough by the Mayor and Mayoress of Higham Ferrers (Ald. and Mrs Owen Parker). Mrs H K Fry, and Mdlle. Sanders (a guest of Mr and Mrs G H Groome, ‘Hazelwood,’ Rushden), who rendered incalculable service as interpreter.

Amongst those who assembled at Higham Ferrers station to welcome the visitors were Ald. T Patenall (Deputy Mayor) and Mrs Patenall, Rev H K Fry (Vicar), Mrs R H Higson, Rev W Peppercorn, Miss Simpson (Chelveston), and Mr T H A Beetenson, the energetic secretary of the Belgian Relief committee.

The names of the Belgian party., which comprises nine adults and three children, are as follows:- Robert Goffard (draughtsman’s mechanic), Alphonsine Goffard, and Robert Goffard, jun. (child), Nicholas Delvaux (plumber), Josephine Delvaux, and Robert Delvaux (child), Adrian Elias and Edouard Poffe (convalescent soldiers), Mdme. Danvers (widow), Joseph Wilmet, Henriette Wilmet, and Marguerite Wilmet (child).

It is interesting to not that M Adrien Elias was wounded at Liege and was taken prisoner by the Germans. After three weeks in their hands, during which time, we are informed, he was given very little food, he managed to obtain civilian clothes, and succeeded in escaping to England, where he was admitted into hospital at Folkestone, remaining there two months. His wound, under the arm, was of so serious a nature as to totally incapacitate him from further military service, and he holds official papers exempting him from such duties in the future. The treatment of French and Belgian by the Germans, he says, is by no means kind, as not sufficient food is given them, but the hatred of the Germans for the Englishman knows no bounds, and for British prisoners it is practically starvation, the Germans thus finding a vent for their venomous hatred of the English.

The visitors, upon arrival at Higham, were taken straight to their temporary abode, and two very pleasing incidents there took place. Mrs Fry had very thoughtfully purchased a photograph of the heroic King Albert, and this, surmounted by a couple of Belgian flags, being placed in a conspicuous position on the wall of the larger sitting room, at one became the centre of interest for the whole Belgian party, occasioning no little excitement. Both of the soldiers, on catching sight of the photograph of their monarch, at once came smartly to the salute, and being this infused by uncontrollable feelings of patriotism, they sought further means of giving expression to their enthusiasm. Seizing a couple of Belgian flags from the hall, they proceeded to the front of the house and waving their colours in the air they creid “Vive la Belgique!! Vive l’Anglais! Vive la France! Vive la Russie!” The crowd assembled outside, in response, gave three hearty cheers, and les soldat seemed greatly pleased at having elicited such response.

A most excellent meat tea was then provided, the Mayor and Mayoress, with the ladies of the Belgian Relief Committee attending to the needs of their Belgian guests.

Rushden Echo, 1st January 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

Children Crucified - Dastardly Acts of Drunken German Soldiers
Belgian Refugee at Higham Ferrers Tells a Gruesome Story - Food for Belgians Stolen by Germans

Children crucified by drunken Germans, adults assaulted and injured, and everybody subjected to the most cruel and rigorous supervision by tyrannical German officialdom—these are only a few of the things that Monsieur F Verbert, lately of Antwerp, now a refugee at Higham Ferrers, has witnesses since the outbreak of war. He escaped from Antwerp just before Christmas.

M. Verbert is a very intellectual and well educated gentleman, and in an interview he gave a “Rushden Echo” representative some almost incredible accounts of German brutality, accounts which were related ina quiet, unexaggerated manner. M Verbert has actually seen children crucified, horrible as it sounds, by barbarous Germans.

“The Belgian children,” he said, “are compelled to dig trenches for the Germans, and these are dynamited ready for the reception of the Allies. At the fall of Antwerp everyone had to salute the German flag, as the troops entered the town, and anyone who dared to refuse was run through with the scabbard. The Germans are always drunk, and although they are virtually in possession of Antwerp they are afraid of the inhabitants. After dark if a German soldier is walking along the street and he sees a man coming along he will go across the street out of his road.

“It is true that anyone who gives evidence against the Germans is subjected to torture. I have seen a man who was burnt on the arm for no other offence. Another man, whom I know, implored the Germans for his wife and himself to be released from a dark dungeon into which they had been plunged, but not only were they refused but were not given enough food to keep off hunger.

“No one has any real liberty. If we only went for a walk in the street the Watch Committee demanded to know how we had passed the time. All have to sign a document, before the Committee, giving particulars of everything they required to know. And then there are those who will always, through fear or greed of gold, tell the Germans things that might be of service to them. In consequence, numbers are suspiciously watched about until they commit some trivial offence and are then thrown into prison.

“There is no work or business being transacted in Antwerp, and consequently little food and no money. Although Americans have sent much food to Belgium for the peasants who are starving, the food was collared by the Germans and sent to the interior for the use of their troops. This nearly led to a revolution in the town. Starving men, who know that the food which is being sent to them is kept by the enemy, are desperate.

“The Germans charge six or seven francs for a passport but that sum is beyond the reach of 99 out of 100. The Belgium ‘Inspector’ advised me to clear out as quickly as possible as I was being watched, so at mid-night about three weeks ago I made good my escape without a pass. Walking for eight days, I at last reached Rotterdam and eventually got to Rushden.”

During the bombardment of Antwerp, M. Verbert, with his friends, hid in subterranean passages. He says that the Belgians are willing, at any time the Allies come along, to rise up against the Germans. The time is whiled away by the Prussian soldiers, by drinking and “carrying on” with bad women. In fact, he said, one could see them drunk oftener than sober.

M. Verbert showed our representative a sample of the dirty work of the Germans to bring discredit on England and the English language. A German in Antwerp was printing on cards in English, a verse most disgusting in its immorality and filthy suggestiveness, for the purpose of trying to make the world at large believe that this kind of thing was of British origin. M. Verbert has one of the original specimens of these cards, and hopes to bring it as evidence against the Germans, whenever they attempt to insinuate that the idea of it was initiated by English people. Even the language, as well as the English people themselves, come under the mean attacks of German “Kultur.”

Asked how long he thought the war would last, M. Verbert said he thought it would not be more than twelve months’ duration. The Germans, who had mobilized seven months ago, were finding it increasingly difficult to protect the enormous battle line which they had flung out. The Allies were killing such great numbers of Germans and those numbers were not being replaced. They were trying to prepare against the advance of the Allies by mining the ground to blow up troops. He is of the opinion that Antwerp will be best won back by the Allies by first capturing Liege, and so cutting off communication. Italy, America, Spain, and little Denmark, M. Verbert believes, are sympathetic, to an active degree, with the Allies, but he fears that Holland is Pro Germanic. M. Verbert, who arrived at Rushden on Tuesday, is the guest of the Mayor of Higham Ferrers.

Rushden Echo, 1st January 1915

The Belgian Refugees were entertained by Mr Franklin at Saturday’s matinee at the Royal Theatre.

Herbert and two Belgians
Herbert Wallis and two Belgian friends

The Rushden Echo, 8th January, 1915, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Our Belgian Guests - New Year’s Party at Rushden
Higham and Rushden Refugees Fraternise - Speech by The Chairman of The Rushden Committee
The opening of 1915 was celebrated at the Belgian House, Rushden, on Friday last, when, at the kind invitation of “Madame Bishton,” as her charges affectionately call her, the Higham Belgian refugees came over to meet those of their compatriots who are receiving hospitality at Rushden. The Higham visitors were accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. T. H. A. Beetenson and Mr. Twissell, of the Higham Belgian Relief Committee. An enjoyable concert was given, the items including the Belgian Tango danced by Mdlle. Leontine and M. Joseph. Songs were contributed by M. Robert Goffard and a humorous number by M. C. Devries. La Marseillaise and La Brabancomme were amongst the most enjoyable numbers, the whole company joining in the choruses. Solos were given by Mr. J. Bishton and Mr. W. Desborough. Mr. Cecil Sargent accompanied the songs, and Miss Mabel Bishton played for dancing. During the interval the chairman of the Rushden committee, Councillor J. S. Clipson, J.P., addressed the assembly, his remarks being interpreted by M. Devries. His address was as follows:-

I should like, at this juncture, to briefly acknowledge the courteous letter which has been addressed by one of your number on behalf of our Belgian friends, through the local Press, to the people of Rushden. If I may be allowed to speak on behalf of the local committee, I would say that all of them are delighted to know that you feel so comfortable amongst us. Any trouble that the members of the committee have given themselves on your behalf has been amply repaid by the grateful way in which you have accepted the hospitality provided by the townspeople, and by being able to restore to you some measure of that comfort and happiness of which you have so wrongfully been deprived. Like yourselves, we are highly gratified with the desirable residence, which through the generosity of Messrs. Phipps, we have been able to place at your disposal. Our thanks are due to them, and also to all those who have lent and given the many articles of furniture, etc., necessary for your use, as well as to all those of our citizens, from the lowest to the highest, who are giving according to their means towards the upkeep of this establishment. We are glad that you appreciate the untiring efforts of your matron, Mrs. Bishton. We also highly appreciate her help, and I think that the smoothness with which the home has progressed, and the ready way in which you have been able to settle down, is in no small measure due to our being able to secure the services of such a one as Mrs. Bishton, who understands your language, and your manners and customs so well. In conclusion, I am sure that I voice the feelings of the townspeople of Rushden, from the largest benefactors down to the lowliest girl who is contributing her pence week by week in the factory, when I express the wish that this year 1915 may be a brighter one for you all than the past has been, that it may see your homeland freed from the cruel grip of the invader, and that you, with your fellow countrymen, may be enabled to commence the great task of rebuilding your wasted homes and fortunes. Meanwhile we assure you of our unabated sympathy, and trust your stay in our midst may be one of increasing happiness and goodwill. (Applause).

Thanks were heartily accorded all who in any way had contributed to the success of the evening.

Rushden Echo, 11th February 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Belgian House

A concert was given to the refugees on Tuesday by the Mandolin Band, assisted by Miss Pettit and Mr. Chas Bailey. Mr. J. S. Clipson presided. Programme: March, Camp Parade, Band; song, Songs of home, Miss F. Pettit; mandolin solo, Intermezzo, Miss E. Young; song, The Rosary, Mr. Bailey; selection, Medley March, Band, pianoforte solo, Miss M. Percival; mandola solo, Calma Della Sera, Miss E. Upton; song, Miss F. Pettit; quartet, Mrs. Knight, Misses R. Holmes, L. Neal and E. Upton; mandolin solo, Miss Ivy West; song, Roses, Mr. Bailey; mandolin duet, Darkey’s patrol, Misses Holmes and Neal; National Anthems of the Allies, Band. M. Vanbush, one of the refugees, expressed thanks to the chairman and artistes, and said that such concerts helped them to forget the deprivations they had suffered.

Extract from the History of St Peter's Roman Catholic Church
When thirty refugees came to Raunds, a village six miles from Rushden, the Raunds Belgian Refugee Committee, on the suggestion of Father O’Gorman, asked the Wellingborough Bus Co. to send a special free bus on Sundays to convey the refugees to Mass. The Bus company met their request most favourably. They could not send a bus on Sundays as they wished to give their own men a rest and also an opportunity to go to church, but they guaranteed a weekly contribution of 10s for the hire of a conveyance. This sum almost covers the expenditure of the conveyance. The deficit is being supplied by the Raunds Belgian Relief Committee.

Rushden Echo, 26th April 1918, Transcribed by Kay Collins

Belgian House—Will those who so kindly lent furniture to the Belgian House kindly communicate with W L Sargent, Glassbrook-road, Rushden. Any goods not claimed by April 30th will be sold and the proceeds added to the Belgian and Allies Fund.

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