The First World War

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  • August 1914, everyone expeced the war would be over quickly, including Herbet Asquith (PM).
  • 'Business as Usual' was adopted, to convince people that the war would not disturb the public.
  • Kitchener appointed to run the war. Secretary of War and a cabinet minister.
  • From August 1914 he was in charge of overall strategy, recruitment and training and supplies. An impossible task.
  • Kitchener thought the war would last longer, but did not anticipate the horrificness of the war. 
  • He was chosen because he was a national hero, he didn't have to have his name on the most famous recruiting poster of all. 
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The BEF And 1914

  • Under the command of Sir John French, started to arrive in France on 18th August, quicker than the Germans expected. 
  • Small, but excellently trained. Moltke had to transfer troops from the eastern front to fight.
  • On 23rd August the BEF stumbled into the Germans near the mining town of Mons. Heavily outnumbered and had to retreat. 
  • 3 days later a battle at Le Cateau. British retreated but the Germans were slowed.

The Battle of the Marne:

  • 5th September 1914, German armies had reached the river, 40 miles NE of Paris. Many Parisians fled the city.
  • BEF advanced into a gap in the 2 German armies, supported by the French. Battle lasted for a week, over a front of 200km.

Race for the Channel Ports:

  • Germans wanted to cut off the retreat/reinforcements of the British and seize the ports. 
  • BEF sent North to Ypres. 13,000 best Germans attacked and lost 100,000, BEF destroyed.
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The Trench System

  • Initially 1 line of trenches, the systems became stronger and more sophisticated. Up to 4 lines of trenches with dug outs thirty fett below ground.
  • Behind the front line were the reserve trenches in case the front line was captured. Across these were communication trenches.
  • Rows of barbed wire for protection, rerected secretly or improved at night. Several feet high and deep.
  • No-man's land was the area between both trench systems, and could be as little as 100m.
  • Trenches constructed for maximum protection.
  • Machine guns eventually housed in concrete shelters. Could fire 600 bullets per second, killing large numbers of infantry.
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Life in the trenches

  • Days were monotonous and boring, passed very slowly. 
  • Troops rarely hungry, little variety in diet. Often ate 'bully' or corned beef with ten men sharing a loaf of bread. 
  • Water was generally brought in petrol cans, where chloride of lime was added to kill the germs. 
  • Disease was common due to crowding and unhygienic conditions. 
  • Rat infestation, feeding on rotting bodies and horse carcasses. 
  • Extreme weather. Snow and frost in the winter and rain on a regular basis. The bottom of the trenches often under at least 1 foot of water. 
  • Many dangers, e.g. the snipers waiting for the sudden head to pop over the trench, prayed on new recruits. 
  • Enemy bombardment, happening most days, led to injury or death from shrapnel. 
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New weapons and tactics

  • Germans first to use poisonous gas at the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April 1915)
  • Other gases attacked the nervous system of caused paralysis. In 1917 Germans used mustard gas, burning skin and causing blisters. 
  • Gas was unsuccessful because in France the wind generally blew towards Germans.
  • Development of bigger and more destructive field guns, to bombard enemy pre-attack.
  • during the Battle of the Somme, in September 1916, British tried the creeping barrage. 
  • The artillery would fire in front of soldiers as they croess no-man's land, requiring extreme accuracy but proved crucial in 1918.
  • The most effective waspon was the tank, invention of an army officer and engineer (Ernest Swinton).
  • First used during the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916, too slow and unreliable with many breaking down.
  • Tanks were greatly successful at the Battle of Cambra, Novermber 1917, when 378 tanks broke through the German trenches and into open country. 
  • Proved decisive in the Allied success in 1918. 
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Why didn't they breakthrough? (1915-1917)

  • Commanders on both sides lacked the imagination to break the deadlock. Cavalry attacks were completely ineffective. 
  • Trench system proved too strong. Soldiers or infantry were supposed to attack quickly through gaps in the enemy lines. 
  • Machne-gunswere ideal defensive weapons. They could fire up to 600 rounds a minute and could cut down lines of attackers. 

The Battle of the Somme:

  • Haig believed that attrition/wearing down the Germans would win the war.
  • Joint Anglo-French offensive to take the pressure off Verdun. 
  • Week long bombardment with 1500 guns shelling the German lines continously. 
  • FIrst men over the top at 7:30am. Formed waves and walked slowly across no man's land. 60,000 casualties on the first day (the German trenches held out).
  • Haig continued the offensive. By November 1916 the British had lost over 400,000 men, after bad weather brought an end to the battle, German's pushed back a little but no breakthrough. 
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The Battle of Passchendale (1917)

  • Haig ordered a second major attack, just north of Ypres.Aim was to capture Passchendale ridge and capture the U-Boat pens at Zeebrugge. 
  • Encouraged by the success of the battle of Messines Ridge, east of Ypres (June 1917) when 18 mines exploded under German lines. 
  • Germand defended the ridge with 2,000 concrete machine-gun posts. It was the mud that defeated the British. 
  • It rained heavily and the bombardment destroyed drains and ditches that crossed the low-lying ground. 
  • Haig and his aides never visited the battlefield so never knew how bad the conditions were. 
  • When the British advanced they needed duckboards to cross and ribbons to show the safe ground. 
  • This time 4 miles was in 3 months, across a sea of months. 
  • When Haig visited the battlefield for the first time, he said 'My God, did I send men to fight in that.'
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Ludendorff's Spring Offensives, 1918

  • The German commander on the Western Front, decided on one last offensive. 
  • British naval blockade was having serious effects on the German war effort. 
  • Ludendorff deliberately concentrated his attacks on the British, believing they were weakened by 1917. 
  • Began on 21st March 1918, between Arras and Amiens, and took the British completely by surprise. 
  • A new defence line was hastily formed and reinforcements were rushed in. 
  • In April the Germans attacked again in the Ypres area, they achieved early success but the British built new defences. 
  • The offensives had weakened the army, exhausting the troops and lowering morale. 
  • Germans had a larger area to defend with a hastily formed, makeshift trench system. 
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The Allied drive to victory (July-November 1918)

  • In August 1918, the allies launched offensives which defeated the Germans. 
  • 8th August the Canadian, Australian, Belgian, French, American and British troops attacked and burst through the Geran defences, forcing the Germans to retreat all along the western front. 
  • Ludendorff described it as 'the black day of the German army'. At amiens an attack in thick fog by 456 British tanks captured 30,000 Germans and 400 field guns. 
  • By October the coast of Belgium had been liberated. In a single day the allies adcanced 13km from Ypres. 
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Medical and surgical developments

  • X-rays were used to treat shrapnel wounds (by locating the shrapnel).
  • Marie Curie developed mobile x-ray units, Little Curies, that could be used on the battlefield. 
  • Sodliers also suffered wounds to the face as they looked over, prosthetic surgery developed.
  • In some cases more than half the face of a victime was rebuilt using artififical skin and false features. 
  • Vast numbers of wounded forces surgeons to experiment with new techniques and gave oppurtunities.
  • Major progress in storing and preserving blood in banks made due to pressure of war. 
  • Most hospitals in Britain recieved government aid and faced state intervention.
  • Wounded would go to a field dressing station, then to a casualty clearing station, then a hospital. 
  • Decline in surgery due to the vast number of operations required from the wounded. 
  • First non-direct transfusion was performed in 1914 using sodium citrate to stop it clotting. 
  • Blood could be drawn into a syring and given to a patient, with an exact amount known. 
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Medical and surgical developments (continued)

  • Discovered that plasma could be taken out of blood so that it could be stored longer. 
  • First real blood bank opened in France in 1916. 
  • In 1917 the use of a citrate-glucose storage of blood in containers lasted for several dayys, opening the first blood depot in Britain. 
  • Medical cards were used. Anaesthesia and anti-sepsis meant that many more wounded soldiers were able to survive their wounds. 
  • False limbs developed. After 'shell-shock' progress was made in understanding and treating mental illness. 
  • Many doctors were called up, reverting to quick and rough methods because they had so many cases to deal with. Many doctors diverted from useful research to frontline treatment. 
  • Many women became doctors and the first women's nursing units were set up. FANY was set up in 1916. 
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  • The British army in August 1914 was a regular professional army. By European standards it was tiny, about 350,000 men, Kaiser said it was a 'contemptible little army'.
  • In 1914 men rushed to volunteer, who would fight more effectively than conscripts. 
  • On 6th August parliament agreed to increase the army to 500,000. Officers were besieged.
  • By the end of August 300,000 men had volunteered. 
  • In September another 600,000 men were called for and 450,000 more had volunteered by the end of the month. 
  • Many men volunteered out of a sense of honor and often were highly educated. The 'lost generation' after the war. 
  • By December 1914, an army of 4,000,000 was planned. 
  • By December 1914 the number of volunteers had fallen to 117,000 and by Frbruary to 88,000. The war was not going to be over by christmas, and news of the conditions and casualties was reaching Britain. 
  • Newspapers at first printed lists of killed and wounded but this was banned, so papers left blank spaces where they would have been.
  • As the war became more serious unemployment fell and wages rose, volunterring had less attraction. 
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Recruitment (continued)

  • Posters became more pointed, women were urged to pressure husbands, brothers, etc. 
  • National Registration of all single men was introduced in August 1915, so that they could be called upon if necessary. 

The Derby scheme:

  • He asked men to promise to volunteer if they were called, excluding anyone with good reason. 
  • No married men would be taken until amm unmarried men were in the army. 
  • Competition to find a new recruitment song. 
  • Campaign was a failure, by then 2,500,000 men had volunteered. Proving conscription crucial.


  • Introduced for the first time by the Military Service Act of January 1916.
  • Haig wanted a 'big push' so that he could make a break through on the front. 
  • From 1916-1918, 3,500,000 men were conscripted into the armed forces. No evidence they were less brave than volunteers. 
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The Military Service Acts

All unmarried men between the ages of 18-41 liable for service in the armed forces. May 1916 this included married men.

Could claim exemption if:

  • Ill 
  • Reserved occupation (employed in an industry of national importance)
  • Family responsibility (people would suffer if they ere conscripted)
  • Conscientious objection.

Anyone who claimed exemption had to go before a Military Tribunal, which could reach these:

  • Absolute exemption, the individuel was unconditionally exempt from service.
  • Condition exemption, the individueal was exempted provding he undertook work of importance.
  • Exemption from combatant duties, they had to join armed forces but not to fight e.g. ambulance units.
  • Rejection, individual had to join the army as normal.
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Conscientious Objectors

  • First group (Non-combatants) join army and perform duties with medical orderlies/drivers.
  • Absolutionists, refused to accept any form of military discipline and would not join the army.
  • Absolutionists numbered very small, less than 16,000, but proved a difficult problem for the government, because the army needed every man they could get. 

What happened to the Absolutionists?

  • Could be ordered to join the army (+ subject to military discipline) if they refused orders could be court-martialled and shot.
  • Sent to prison, sentenced to hard labour. 10 died in prison and 20 after due to the conditions.
  • June 1916, conscientious objectors sent to Home Office Work Centres.
  • At Dyce conditions were so cold, men only had tents, pneumonia broke out and several died.
  • Broxbone's usual job was handling rotting corpses of animals. 
  • Princetown, broke rocks or stitched mailbags like criminals.
  • Conditions improved after 1916, but were not closed until April 1919.
  • By this time 73 COs had died and 31 driven insane. 
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Morale and Discipline

  • No widespread mutinies in the British army as there were in the French in 1917.
  • Great majority accepted their lot, did the job. Soldiers who ran away were court-martiallyed and shot, 300 of them.
  • In the end shell-shock was accepted as a genuine case of breakdown.

The role of Haig:

  • Commander of the British forces since December 1915, nicknamed the 'Butcher of the Somme'. Was a cavalry commander, believed cavalry could cause a breakthrough.
  • Believed in a policy of attrition, facing a difficult type of war (trench warfare).
  • Had no choice about the location of the 1916 offensive.
  • Maintaining the offensive until November 1916 appears to be unwise.
  • Passchendale offensive was a miserable failure, based on the Battle of Messines Ridge (June).
  • Haig did not panic during the German attacks of March/April 'back to the walls' orders.
  • Made effective use of tanks and the creeping barrage during British counterattacks (Auhust-October 1918).
  • Prepared to accept overall command of the French Marshal Foch in interests of Allied success.
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Social Changes

  • In 1914 5,900,000 women out of 23,700,000 worked.
  • Most common job was Domestic Service, 1,500,000.
  • 900,000 women worked in Textiles and another 500,000 in the Sweated Trades.
  • Women paid 2/3 of a man's wage or even less and were rarely promoted above men. 
  • In 1914 they were asked to knit socks and scarves for the men fighting. 
  • Great Shell Shortage (May 1915) many new factories were opened. 
  • Lloyd George became Minister fror Munitions and began recruiting women.
  • July 1915 Suffragettes organised 'Right to Work' march in London.
  • By the end of 1915 more men joined the army, more women needed to take their places. 
  • New factories opened to produce planes, weapons and ammunition, many women worked in these. Many new factories were in remote areas and unmarried women went to work in them. 
  • 1916 Conscription was introduced. Even more women were needed. 
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What work did women do?

  • Munitions workers got £3 a week, most common job. 62 factories in 1915.
  • Dangerous, explosive powder could make skin yellow, catch lung diseased, women barren.
  • In the Silertown explosion in 1917, 107 women killed.
  • 100,000s women worked in munitions, nicknamed canaries/munitionettes, treated with derision.
  • Land Army took the places of farm-workers, 11,000 women.
  • Treated badly by farmers, remote areas with little time off and didn't always get paid.
  • Women worked in Motor Car industry.
  • Aeroplanes, many women painted canvas with varnish (poisonous).
  • Bus conductors, lorry drivers, and delivering goods and coal.
  • 1915 and 1916 women recruited into Armed Forces, nurses, drivers, clerks, secretaries.
  • VADs and FANYs two most known units.
  • By 1918 there were regular units (Wrens/Waacs, Nursing Corps).
  • Primary school teachers mostly women.
  • Women allowed into the legal profession as doctors had to go tend wounds. 
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  • Women proved that they could work as well as men during the war. Learnt skilled jobs.
  • Wages were lower than men's unless they were paid on piece rates. 
  • Not promoted above men.
  • 1915 strikers by men against the employment of women. Men frightened they would lose jobs.
  • Women learnt skills very quickly, meaning they could get high pay in little time.
  • Some employers signed agreements saying women were sacked as soon as war ended.
  • Some factory (male) workers treated women badly, joking/made them work in worst conditions.

Oppurtunities for men:

  • Old industry boomed (government needed supplies).Shipbuilding, coalmining, railways and food production taken over by the government. 
  • Coalmining wages doubled, saferty record improved. 
  • Every shipbuilding yard worked non-stop. 1/3 of all British ships were sunk during the war. 
  • Iron and Steel worked to capacity to meet demands of other industries. 
  • All textile factories had contracts all of the time, nearly 10,000,000 people in uniform.
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Development of Industry

  • Big increase in car and lorry production.
  • First assembly line built by William Morris in 1919 (In Britain).
  • In 1909 the first flight across the CHannel was made by Louis Bleriot, (35 minutes). By 1919 a plane could fly across the Atlantic non-stop.
  • 1914 planes used for recon, 1915 aerial dog-fights, 1916 used as bombers. 
  • Bombers developed into passenger planes after the war.

What happened to women? (BAD)

  • When the war ended most women were sacked and jobs given to men.
  • Campaign to persuade women to go back to being housewives.
  • Many gave up jobs voluntarily, those who didn't were labelled scroungers.
  • Number of women in Domestic Service rose to 1,850,000.
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What changed for women?

  • Women's clothing became simpler, trousers became acceptable.
  • In 1919 a law against discrimination towards women in professions was passed. 
  • In 1923 divorce became easier for women, women only had to have 1 reason now. 
  • In the 1920s contraception was available for the first time.
  • Women began to be accepted as lawyers, doctors and schoolteachers. 
  • Women got the vote at 30 in 1918 and 21 in 1928.
  • First woman MP elected in 1919.
  • Most changed only affected middle class women who could afford to take advantage of them.
  • Most women went back to pre-war life.
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  • Women proved that they could work as well as men during the war. Learnt skilled jobs.
  • Wages were lower than men's unless they were paid on piece rates. 
  • Not promoted above men.
  • 1915 strikers by men against the employment of women. Men frightened they would lose jobs.
  • Women learnt skills very quickly, meaning they could get high pay in little time.
  • Some employers signed agreements saying women were sacked as soon as war ended.
  • Some factory (male) workers treated women badly, joking/made them work in worst conditions.

Oppurtunities for men:

  • Old industry boomed (government needed supplies).Shipbuilding, coalmining, railways and food production taken over by the government. 
  • Coalmining wages doubled, saferty record improved. 
  • Every shipbuilding yard worked non-stop. 1/3 of all British ships were sunk during the war. 
  • Iron and Steel worked to capacity to meet demands of other industries. 
  • All textile factories had contracts all of the time, nearly 10,000,000 people in uniform.
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Votes for Women

  • In 1918 all men got to vote at 21 and women got to vote at 30, but women had to be householders or married to a householder.
  • Herbert Asquith spoke in favour of votes for women in 1916 (not in 1914).
  • Got the vote because they did lots of work during the war.
  • Eligibility of Women Act was padder, allowing women to stand for Parliament.
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  • Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 extended the 1911 scheme, to all workers, got rid of 15 week period. Everyone who earned less than £250 a year included.
  • The Dole was created to give payments to people in extreme difficulty.
  • Dole offered to prevent any kind of revolution. 
  • In 1922 unemployment benefit was extended for an unlimited number of weeks.
  • Some benefits paid to the wives and children of unemployed workers.
  • In 1925, the age for pensions was lowered to 65, 50p a week paid to everybody. To get a pension at 65 people had to pay contributions. 
  • Pensions paid to widows and orphans and allowances for children of widows. 
  • In 1913 only 5.5% of national income went on health and welfare, but in 1924 it was 10.3%.
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  • Main form of propaganda at first was posters of German atrocities. 
  • E.g. selling of Scarborough and Hartlepoos, the sinking of the Lusitania and execution of Nurse Edith Cavell, all were true. 
  • Also false stories (Belgian priests, Babies on Bayonets) most people believed them.
  • Stories were intended to make British people hate Germans.
  • Great Body Scandal (1917) story saying Germans collected dead British and turned into fat.
  • Germans only collected the dead bodies of horses.
  • Only officially denied in 1925.
  • Lusitania was a liner, sun on 8th may 1915, by a U-boat, had 128 US passengers.
  • It was saunk because it carried contraband (4,927 boxes of cartridges, 1,248 cases of shrapnel, 3,863 boxes of cheese and 696 tubs of butter.
  • 1915 films made to encourage support, 1916 Battle of the Somme film shown everywhere.
  • Watched by 20,000,000 people, no scenes of fighting and no dead bodies. 
  • Produced anti-war feelings because of the trench conditions it revealed. 
  • From 1917 Department of information produced films and the National War Aims Committee published leafleft/held rallies. In 1918 Ministry of Information set up under Lord Beaverbrook.
  • Persuaded the people of the USA to support the war.
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Total war

  • In the early months of the war the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). 
  • It gave the government extensive powers.
  • Restrictions on hoarding food, profiteering, and that suspected spies could be held without trial. Trade Union rights were limited and the government took control of rents and prices, and seized land and horses. 
  • Opening hours of public houses were limited to prevent drunkennes. Alcoholic drinks were watered down, buying rounds of drinks was banned. 
  • Convictions for drunkennes fell from 3388 (1914) to 449 (1918).
  • In May 1915 the army almost ran out od shells. Ministry of Munitions created as a result. Organised the munitions industry (Lloyd George).
  • Lead to the creation og a National Coalition government. (Conservatives and Labour) ended the Liberal government. 
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  • Lloyd George increased 4 machine guns per battalion to 64. Output rose from 6,102 in 1915, to 33,507 in 1916, 79,704 in 1917 and 120,864 in 1918. Also increased number of factories. 
  • By the end of 1915 73 new factories had been set up to manufacture and repair munitions. 
  • To keep supplies running, he brought quarries, mines, and many private firms under government control. Businessmen were brought in to run the new industry. 
  • Development of the tank was taken over by the Ministry of Munitions (previously in Admiralty). 
  • Lloyd George transformed the tank in to a practical weapon, from something of little interest. 
  • After Lloyd George's changes there were no problems with supply of weapons and ammunition. 
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Lloyd George as Secretary at War

  • After Kitchener died (boat sunk after it hit a mine) Lloyd George was appointed. 
  • He disagreed with Haig, he hought he was wasting lives on the front. 
  • Wanted to step up the war effort and make defeating Germany the number one priority. 
  • Asquith resigned (December 1916) and Lloyd George replaced him. 
  • Railway network was taken over by government. In 1914 there were more than 120 railway companies. 
  • Troops and war materials could be moved around more efficiently due to war socialism. 
  • Coalmines were taken over by the government, coal was the most important fuel. Production reached a record of 262,000,000 tonnes due to war socialism. 
  • Shipyards also taken over. Due to unrestricted U-boats in first half of 117 Germans sank 800,000 tonnes of British shipping. 
  • Lloyd George ordered merchant ships to sail in convoys and for the Royal Navy to provide escorts. 
  • Due to war socialism Britain produced 90% of it's food supply in 1918 (60% in 1914).
  • Government could force skilled workers to remain in jobs of national importance. 
  • In 1917 there was a series of strikes in protest agains the Directed Labour, more shipyards. 
  • Created the Ministry of Information.
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  • In 1917 food supplies began to run short. 
  • Rationing introduced in January 1918.
  • People began to hoard food. 
  • At first rationing was only applied to meat, but in July 1918, sugar, butter, margarine and cooking fat were all rationed. Food sold in restaurants was also conrolled. 
  • Amounts allowed were generous, no shortages. 
  • Queues outside some shops in February and March 1918 before supplies from the spring and summer were available. 
  • Increased food consumption, most people bought their full rations, even if they did not want/need them. 
  • Lloyd George's policies were a major factor in winning the war. 

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