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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders


The two regiments the 91st and the 93rd Highlanders, which ran their separate courses until they were linked together in 1882 as “The Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,” have each an interesting story to tell, one which owes not a little to their pipers. Almost the first item in the opening chapter of the 91st, which was raised in 1794 by the 5th Duke of Argyll, is one that concerns pipers. That reference occurs in a letter which his kinsman, Duncan Campbell of Lochow, a captain in the Scots Guards, who was to become the first commandant of the 91st, wrote to a friend, requesting: “If you can meet with one or two good pipers, handsome fellows and steady, you might go as far as thirty guineas for each.”

In due season the pipers, “handsome and steady” no doubt, obligingly came and piped the majority of the rank and file from the various clachans of the county, to the territorial tune of “The Campbells are Cornin’.” The regiment was soon clothed in complete Highland dress with a tartan of dark green, blue and black set.

It continued for some years as a Highland regiment, but its distinctive title and Highland characteristics alike were to be lost, with the exception of the pipers, for about fifty-four years. The pipers were actively engaged as pipers during the regiment’s campaign in South Africa in 1795 and throughout the Peninsular War. In the second year of that protracted campaign the military authorities ordered the kilt to be withdrawn from the 91st and some other Highland units, and tartan trews to be issued instead. A year later (1810) tartan trews also were withdrawn in favour of the grey trousers worn by all English and Lowland regiments. Their name, too, was changed from the “91st Argyllshire Regiment” to “91st Regiment of Foot.” By the year 1821 the old customs and characteristics had all disappeared, losses that were deplored by some ex-officers of the 91st who visited their old regiment that year as it lay at Maryhill. These officers said that they particularly missed the piper at mess, and everything about the barracks suggested an English regiment rather than a Scottish one. That, indeed, was then its trend, for some of the rank and file volunteered for service with other Highland regiments and their places were taken by Irish and Englishmen. The officers sought to stem the change and appealed to Headquarters for permission to resume their old title and dress of the Highland soldier, but to all their appeals the authorities were adamant. “If you can guarantee that all the regiment is composed of Scots, your appeal will be sustained — not unless.” That was how the matter was disposed, and as no such guarantee could be given the 91st continued to be badly handicapped. Yet, strangely, the pipers continued and were with the regiment throughout its service on the island of St Helena, 1836-40, where its duties consisted in the guarding of Napoleon’s tomb and in preparing for the removal of his body to France.

Ihe lack of the Highland characteristics told heavily on the regiment; those who would otherwise have joined, gave a wide berth to the 91st, and Major M'Neill, a typical Highland officer, finding in 1842 that he could not get the Highland dress for the corps exchanged with Major Lindsay of the 78th Highlanders, an exchange that was for the benefit of the 78th and the disadvantage of the Argylls. The annalists of the period make no secret of the unpopularity in which Colonel Lindsay was held by officers, non-commissioned officers and men alike. He had closed the officers’ mess, in violation of the Queen’s Regulations, and “allowed the corps of pipers to die out.”

The lack of pipers was a most grievous complaint, one which irritated all members of the 91st for several reasons, one of which was the nickname which it earned in the forties of the nineteenth century.

The 74th bad been sent to the same station as the 91st, and as fresh arrivals, expected to be escorted to the neighbouring camp from the station by a party of pipers from the resident Argylls. No pipers, however, were seen or heard, but instead there fell on their ears the sound of clattering camp kettles, as the cooks and orderlies of the Argylls ran to make ready the meal for the strangers.

"That must be the band of the Argylls,” remarked a wag in the 74th, and from that time the pleasantry was bandied about, to the intense disgust of the injured Argylls. Efforts to make good the deficiency in bagpipes, in spite of the ban by the colonel, resulted in some ex-piper getting a set, borrowed probably from one of the 74th, and with these the Amatola hills were made to resound with the melodies of the Highlands.

That was, however, only a makeshift, but better times were in sight; the unpopular Colonel Lindsay was censured by the commander-in-chief for some failing in administration, and shortly after retired in the same year, 1847.
What a relief! Major Glencairn Campbell, an officer of the best type, was promoted and introduced his reform of the old 91st by searching out the bagpipes, chanters, and pipe banners that had been hidden in some chests in the quartermaster s stores for many years.

These were found none the worse, the pipers were regarbed, equipped, and posted to their duties as pipers, and soon the old familiar pipe tunes were heard from Reveille to Tattoo and “Lights Out.”

One can realise the relish with which the regimental chronicler of 1847 entered in his book, “Once more the regiment was able to march out with its pipers dressed in green tunics and Campbell tartan trews and plaids and with diced bonnets — all that they had to remind the men of their Scottish nationality.”

The regiment’s recovered sense of gaiety was however short-lived, for another “ogre” in the form of an inspecting officer, catching sight of the pipers on parade, sternly ordered their removal from the strength of the corps. That was in 1850; the regiment, officers and men, were indignant, the chronicler fell into despondency as he wrote, “The regiment had clung to the pipes as the last relic that remained of the origin, the history, and the nationality of the corps. They had been handed down from the period of its formation without objection. (The ban by Colonel Lindsay was not noticed by the chronicler.)

Better times were ahead, but not for some years was there an opportunity afforded of disobeying the edict against the pipes. The 91st went to Ireland in 1851 and remained there till 1854, when they were sent to one of the most interesting series of stations, namely the different islands in the Mediterranean, visiting among other historic places Mars Hill, listening to lectures on that and other scenes of St Paul’s missionary work. Once in India, which the 91st reached in 1858, Colonel Bertie Gordon lost no time in sending to Scotland for sets of bagpipes for which he paid £86. The old pipers had all left the regiment, except one, William W. Cameron, a private. To him the colonel entrusted the training of those willing to learn the rudiments of the piob mhor. In a few more years’ time the regiment heard with delight that “Her Majesty was graciously pleased to approve of the 91st (Argyllshire) Regiment of Foot resuming the appellation of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders and being clothed and equipped as a non-kilted Highland corps, the tunic as worn in all Highland corps, the trews of Campbell tartan.” Thus the year 1864 was a landmark in the annals of the regiment. It was remembered by many others not connected with the regiment because of the newspaper correspondence that ensued in regard to the “Campbell tartan.” No one seemed to know exactly which was the set used by the original members of the 91st, although, as it turned out, the only one who was right was the Duke of Argyll. The consensus of opinion by those deemed most expert was in favour of the set showing the red stripe, which, though resembling too closely the tartan of the Atholls, the old enemy of the Campbells, was the tartan adopted and used by the 91st until their union with the 93rd. The pipers and the regiment altogether were on the upward way toward official favour. The marriage of H.R.H. the Princess Louise to the Marquess of Lorne in 1871 meant very much to the personnel of the 91st, which, as the regiment of Argyll, had its representatives present at the marriage, at Windsor. There the pipers played alternately with the band of the Grenadiers, and of the small party of officers who had the honour of being received by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and Princess Louise the pipemajor, M‘Dugall, was one. Her Majesty was an admirer of pipe music and took the opportunity of requesting that the regiment should march past on all occasions to the tunes of the pipers, and that when marching past the pipers would fall in in front of the military band. When asked what favour he would like to be bestowed on his regiment, Colonel Sprot replied that he should like it to bear the title of “Princess Louise’s,” and if possible that it should have once more the kilt as part of its uniform. That long-cherished hope of the regiment would also have been realised then, had it not been for the objection taken by the commander-in-chief that the kilt “would cause difficulty in recruiting and add to the expense.”

The pipers were wage-earners for the regiment, or rather for the public at large. When the 91st moved into Edinburgh Castle in 1873 the band and pipers were in great request as entertainers. Once each week in the winter of 1873-74 they played in the Assembly Rooms, and the profits gained from the prices of admission, amounting to £42, were put towards the cost of the handsome drinking well at the south-west corner of the Esplanade. When the regiment was sent in 1879 to take part in the Zulu War the bandsmen were put on hospital orderly duties, while the nine pipers along with some drummers and fifers accompanied the battalion into action.

At last the regiment attained its long-cherished desire — its rehabilitation as a kilted unit. The union of the 91st and the 93rd in 1882 made that a matter of course, and the question of tartan which had caused so much anxiety in 1864 was quickly settled by the adoption of the latter corps’s tartan, which was identical with the tartan worn by the original 91st. The combination of the two battalions was a necessary one, though the officers and men of each unit were not disposed at first to think so. For some time it was the habit of the officer responsible for sending drafts from one battalion at home to the other abroad, to send the smallest and the least desirable, a practice which was later amended, as in other corps.

The 91st, or 1st Battalion, had been winning renown for some time, and during its sojourn in South Africa in 1883 it attracted the notice of a much wider public merely because the piper of “D” Company, which had been converted into a mounted infantry company, was also mounted. A piper on horseback announcing on his pipes “The Campbells are Cornin’” was an event which aroused the greatest degree of curiosity on the part of the general public as well as the battalion, the members of which turned out to witness the debut of Piper Loudon as an equestrian piper. Thanks to the great age and mild character of the steed the piper managed to retain his seat in the saddle while he rather anxiously essayed a pipe melody. The battalion was satisfied, if not proud of their mounted piper, and took the opportunity of sending him some time later to meet the commandant and play him from the station to the mess-tent. Pressmen and artists made the most of the picture, which they sent to various newspapers, one illustration finding its way into the pages of the Illustrated Times, another getting an honoured place in the officers’ mess. The pipers were of excellent quality, a fact borne out by their successes in 1885 in the Caledonian Sports of Durban, where they were awarded first place for pipe-playing and for dancing. A much greater tribute to the value of pipers was rendered at the conclusion of the army manoeuvres at Aldershot in 1893, when it was reported that among all the battalions that had taken part, the 91st alone had had no casualties; that during the whole period none had fallen out. This admirable record military critics puzzled to account for, several holding that it was due to the stamina infused by the music of their pipers.

”There is no doubt that the men themselves placed great store by the pipers: no test of physical endurance which they entered upon ever took place without the accompaniment of the pipes. In 1895, for example, a party of N.C.O.'s and men of the battalion marched from Aldershot to Hyde Park Corner, London, in full marching order, with the object of making a record. They were accompanied by two of their pipers, M‘Kay and Robb, who played alternately most of the way. That distance of thirty-five miles they accomplished in twelve hours thirty-five minutes, or in terms of actual marching, nine hours.

Four years later the battalion was in the thick of the South African War, the pipers with it, ready for any emergency. That emergency did arise in the terrible battle of Magersfontein, where the heavy fire on the Highland Brigade in close formation proved devastating. Sergeant M‘Innes, whose description has been used by Mr Dunn-Pattison in his History relates that the men of the different battalions “were converted into a dismayed mob, running to seek cover anywhere, and yelling, shot by the score as they did so. . . . I witnessed one of the bravest deeds I ever saw, for suddenly there broke forth the strains of "The Campbells are Cornin’," and there was Jimmy M‘Kay, the corporal piper of the 91st, standing up fearlessly playing the regimental tune, facing the storm of bullets in a valiant attempt to stop the retirement from becoming a rout. The pipers of the various regiments broke out playing almost immediately after, and there can be no doubt that this altered the aspect of the fight considerably.” A noble tribute to the pipers!

The town of Johannesburg after the war came to know the band and pipers of the 91st pretty well. In August 1902, both band and pipers marched through the town playing “The Barren Rocks of Aden” to the joy of the residents, and they led the battalion as it formed part of the units which paraded before Lord Milner; and in December 1902, the small detachment from the 91st which was present at the unveiling of the monument to the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein, included James M‘Kay, the piper of Magersfontein then pipe-major. Three ex-pipers of the regiment were observed in the pipe band of Kimberley Town Band.

When the band and pipers left Johannesburg the town authorities raised a subscription for the bandsmen and pipers and drummers in recognition of their entertainments in the town gardens each week.

The 91st was making up for all the slights and scurvy treatment which it had received in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, when it was the “Cinderella” of Scottish regiments. In 1908 it was especially honoured in being selected to furnish the guards for the King’s residence at Buckingham Palace and at St James’s Palace, while the Foot Guards were on manoeuvres, tor a battalion that had never courted the limelight, it was a novelty to find themselves gazed upon by crowds of Londoners who had never till then looked on kilted sentries at Buckingham and St James’s. The dismounting of each guard provided further entertainment for the Londoners, as it was done to the accompaniment of a piper who played off the guard in slow time with “M'Kay’s Farewell to the 71st," and then changed into a quickstep.

The 91st had really proved a partner altogether worthy of its 2nd Battalion, the old 93rd, one of the most distinguished battalions of the army. In its early days it had been Presbyterian to a man, and was, with the probable exception of the Cameronians, the only battalion with its own elders and its own communion cups.

The 93rd had not the opportunity of sharing in the thrilling episodes of the Peninsular War and of Waterloo, as it served at the Cape and then in fatal New Orleans. It was the Crimean War, and particularly the engagement of Balaclava, that marked it out as a great battalion. In the “Thin Red Line” and at Inkerman six pipers were present, Pipe-Major John M'Leod, Angus M'Kay, Roderick M*Kay, Hugh Connachar, George McDonald and James Sinclair. Of John M‘Leod, the regiment— officers and men — were immensely proud. A first-class piper, soldier, and comrade, he was never known to grumble though everyone else indulged in that luxury when cold, hunger, and other hardships oppressed all. M'Leod, like the true philosopher that he was, spoke little but shared all his goods with his more immediate comrades. Everyone knew that when the hamper of food and drink which his relatives sent him at regular periods arrived, he would divide the whole equally among his tent comrades. One defect however he had, in the eyes of the junior officers—there was no animation in face or body as he played. Long would they sit listening to his splendid rendering of pibroch, march, reel, and strathspey, but when they looked on his face they would have liked to protest. When he walked his admirers could have prodded him, for he walked as no piper and no soldier walked. When about 1855 the piper’s doublets were changed to green, the officers took the opportunity of putting the walk right. “Look here, John,” said one, “when you get that doublet you must really put on some swagger; every other pipe-major has it.” To which M'Leod made answer: “Na, na, I’m no guid-luiking eneuch for that.” And without the swagger the pipe-major proved his valour in the Indian Mutiny more than once. There, in the assault on the Secundrabagh, General Sir Colin Campbell, turning to the colonel of the '93rd, shouted “Bring on the Tartan, let my own lads at them,” an order which Pipe-Major M‘Leod and seven pipers quickly translated by playing “On wi’ the Tartan” (“Haughs o' Cromdale”). Like one man the seven companies leapt over the wall, quickly silencing the enemy. When the fight was over Sir Colin Campbell made his way to the pipe-major to compliment him on his spirited playing. “Thank ye, sir,” replied honest John, “I thought the lads would fight better wi’ the national airs to cheer them.” A similar compliment was paid M‘Leod by Sir E. Lugard, commanding the division, after the hot two hours’ fighting in the Begum’s palace. During all that time the pipe-major played, to the astonishment of all, “as calmly as if he had been in the officers’ mess tent” (Forbes Mitchell’s Reminiscences; Munro’s Reminiscences). M'Leod was certainly a remarkable man.

To an officer about to rebuke a reckless young soldier who cursed and raved before the attack the pipe-major said, “Don’t mind the puir lad, sir, he’s not drunk, he is fey! Me will never see the sun set!” a prophecy that came true.
At the siege of Lucknow M'Leod was first into the breach, and no sooner in than he played and continued doing so throughout the fighting in places perfectly exposed, doubtless to the astonishment of the sepoys (Rurgoyne, p. 256).

Dr Munro tells an amusing episode regarding a Maharajah of Patiala and the pipers of the 93rd:—

The regiment had been on the march (one of 616 miles when accomplished) and halted for one day near the residence of the Maharajah. "His Highness, on being made aware of our presence, sent his vakeel to invite us to an afternoon entertainment, and to request that we would bring the band with us. Accordingly several of us went, and the band attended as requested. The Maharajah, a very young man, received us with the politeness which Oriental princes understand so well, and conversed with us in English. He paid little, if any, attention to the music of the band, but when the twelve pipers struck up a reel and strathspey his countenance brightened up and his eyes sparkled. He listened with evident pleasure, and, when they ceased to play, exclaimed: ‘Beautiful! That is the music for me. Can I get such a band? Can I buy it?’ He was informed that it might be possible to purchase the discharge of one of the pipers and engage him to instruct his own men. This suggestion the Maharajah gladly accepted, and John Mackay, [Fionna says the name of the piper was Henry Sinclair M‘Kay. Mackay in “Sutherland and Reay” gives it as John Mackay.] one of the 93rd pipers, being pleased with the liberal terms offered by the Indian prince, was at length transferred to his new charge. Some time afterwards, on the occasion of a Durbar held at Umballa, a number of Indian princes with their military retainers were present. The Maharajah and a very large body of his troops attended along with their pipe band. Dr Munro, whose house was near, was surprised to have a visit from a gorgeously dressed soldier in scarlet tunic covered with gold lace, blue cloth trousers with general officers’ gold lace down the sides, a splendid blue and gold turban or paghri on his head, and a broad heavy sash to correspond round his waist. This was ex-Piper John Mackay, head musician of His Highness of Patiala. John treated the doctor to some tunes on the pipes by the fourteen Indian pipers whom he had taught on pipes supplied by Glen of Edinburgh. The doctor was surprised at their proficiency. The men were dressed in green cloth tunics and 93rd tartan trews. . . . ‘ The Maharajah had at first intended to dress the pipers in full Highland costume, but,’ said Mackay, ‘I couldn’t stand seeing a native dressed up in a kilt and insisted on trews instead.’ Mackay was delighted with his post and with his master, who paid him much more than the sum mentioned in the agreement. ‘I have also a good house, several cows, a horse and buggy, and whenever my services are required to play either to amuse or soothe His Royal Highness to sleep I always get a handsome present in money.’ Mackay remained five years in the Maharajah’s service and then owing to illness returned to Scotland where he set up a fine business” (Munro’s 'Reminiscences, pp. 318-19).

Meanwhile his old regiment had been on the march through India on their way to the Easofzai Campaign (1863). In their progress the stalwart natives, who regard themselves as descendants of Joseph the son of Israel, took scarcely any notice of the men until the pipers began to play. Then “every man, woman, and child within hearing flocked to listen” {Burgoyne, p. 301).

The 2nd Battalion was engaged in the war in the North-West Frontier of India in 1897-98 while it was the 1st Battalion that marched from Dublin in 1899 on their way to the South African War. No opportunities for gaining distinction came the way of the pipers whose duties lay in stretcher-bearing.

It was not until the Great War that the pipers were given the chance of showing their great versatility, ingenuity, and courage in tight corners. Counting all the Territorial and New Anny battalions of the regiment, twelve of the fourteen were in the field. The pipers of the 1st and 2nd Battalions did not have their pipes on entering France; every piper and every drummer was then a rifleman, taking his place in the trenches alongside the rest of the battalions. The 1st Battalion which had come from India had arrived in France in November 1911, and fought there till December 1916, when it was sent to the Balkans along with other units from Indian stations, to form the 27th Division. During the fighting in France only one piper had fallen but soon after the campaign in the Balkans had opened they sustained several casualties. That led to an order by the O.C. requiring all pipers to leave the trenches and repair to Headquarters, where they were to stay until the battalion went to the front lines when they were to play them as far as was deemed safe.

The pipers of the 2nd Battalion had been fighting for ten months in France when it was learned that eleven of the twenty-one pipers who were on the Peace Establishment were casualties, one of the killed being a sixteen-year-old boy. The officers thereupon withdrew the remainder of the band from the trenches and placed them on ammunition carrying, with intervals when they played the battalion into action and from the front line trenches. One piper who did not conform to the rule was Peter Dean, considered one of the best all-round soldiers in the battalion. Dean was not only a piper but a machine gunner whose skill and daring made him conspicuous among officers and men alike. It came as no surprise to his comrades to learn that he was awarded a D.C.M. They looked for more and they were not disappointed. For soon afterwards he was awarded a bar to that medal, then be was promoted to a commission, was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, where he secured an M.C., and finally he was further promoted major in his own battalion, the only instance in the Great War of a piper becoming a major in his mother battalion. His old comrades among the pipers were naturally proud of Dean, none more so than Leonard A. Planner, one of the most popular of the band. “Jim,” as he was named, had gone to the regiment as a boy from the Duke of York’s School, which was rather astonishing in respect that he had no ties with Scotland. He had escaped all manner of casualties until the 9th November 1918, when, to the dismay of his friends in the battalion, he was killed—the last piper to foil in action.

The pipers of the New Army and Territorial battalions were no whit less distinguished in action. One of the romantic episodes of Beaumont Hamel was the complete rout of a force of Germans by a piper! A subaltern with a sergeant and a piper found that they had lost touch with their fellows and were in the immediate rear of the Germans, who were resisting an attack by our men who were at the far end of the village. It was a decidedly awkward situation for the three “Argylls,” but the piper saved it. Striking up the regimental tune “The Campbells are Cornin’,” he and his officer and N.C.O. had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy retire in disorder, under the impression that the piper heralded another party of attackers in the rear.

Of the Territorial battalions the l/5th Battalion pipers had many adventures as runners, ammunition carriers, and stretcher-bearers in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, and France, and suffered many casualties in consequence. Piper William Carlyle, l/6th Battalion, who had been mentioned in despatches, met a hero’s death in trying to rescue a wounded comrade. Piper George Flockhart of the l/7th (Falkirk) Battalion seemed to bear a charmed life, for, surviving the second battle of Ypres, where five of his piper comrades were killed and the pipe-major was wounded while acting as platoon sergeant, he distinguished himself by his gallant leadership, for which he was awarded a D.C.M. After passing through all the vicissitudes of war Flockhart resumed his pre-war occupation as a miner in Carnock Mine and was killed while at work just a month after the Armistice.

The l/8th (Dunoon) Company had two pipers who were distinguished in different spheres. William Laurie, the pipe-major, has been reckoned one of the most accomplished pipers, and bis work, the “Battle of the Somme,” holds first place among the Great War compositions. The hardships of the campaign proved too much for Laurie’s constitution ; he was invalided home, where he died on 28th November 1916. John M‘Lellan, a piper in the same band, had won the D.C.M. as a piper in the H.L.I. in the South African War. M'Lellan was a poet who found inspiration at the cannon’s mouth so to say, several of his poetical effusions which found places in the newspaper columns having been actually composed and written in the front line trenches. He has also to his credit several popular pipe melodies, one of which, “The Taking of Beaumont Hamel,” expresses the piper’s feelings in that memorable action.

Probably the most unfortunate of all the Territorial battalions of the regiment was the l/9th (Dumbarton) Battalion, whose pipers were almost entirely made casualties soon after their arrival in France. Two were killed in the first battle of Ypres and three so severely wounded that they had to be discharged; three others fell sick and had to be invalided out. The few who remained were then transferred to other units.

In the New Army battalions the pipers were put to one or other of those indispensable duties — ammunition carrying, stretcher work, running messages, and occasionally serving as duty men. In the 10th Battalion the pipemajor, Thomas Aitken, a veteran of the pre-war Argylls, tended the wounded under heavy fire and had his devotion and gallantry rewarded by a D.C.M., while Piper Duncan M'Sporran, who later was promoted pipe-major, forgot that he was regarded as a very good pibroch player but remembered that the old-time piper went into battle at the head of his men, and so kept that place in many an engagement, including that of Longueval. M‘Sporran may not have won any decoration but he did earn the warm approval of the men who marched to his stirring strains. In the storming of the Hindenburg line the runners and ammunition carriers had arduous and trying times and one of those who excelled on that occasion was Lance-Corporal Piper Gammack who, in consequence, was awarded the Military Medal.

Far different conditions governed the pipers of the 11th Battalion, whose colonel, the late Malcolm M‘Neill, a distinguished officer of the regular Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with a passion for pipe music and some ability as a player, tried to shelter his pipers from all unnecessary risks. A good piper of the Camerons is said to have called forth the admiration of Colonel M‘Neill, who promptly offered the officer commanding the Camerons three privates in exchange for that piper, an offer which was not accepted. Once M‘Neill had to leave his battalion, and on his return learned that the pipers had been put on ammunition carrying in consequence of which eight pipers had become casualties. The colonel was inclined to be angry and the officer responsible had to listen to a lecture on the value of pipe music in war and the consequent necessity for conserving as far as possible the providers of that music.

For the Republic, Raymond Desvarreux, one of the foremost painters of France, made an excellent portrait of a fine-looking, magnificently proportioned piper, of the A. and S. H., James M‘Niven, a native of Tiree.

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