Battle Honours

The Saskatchewan Dragoons perpetuates The 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion (South Saskatchewan), Canadian Expeditionary Force, and thus carries the sixteen battle honours won by the 46th Battalion in World War I.

What Are Battle Honours?

Battle honours have been awarded to British military units for actions as far back as 1662. An excellent explanation of the battle honour system can be found on the web site of The Royal New Brunswick Regiment. It reads in part as follows:

  A battle honour is a public commemoration of a battle or campaign, the memory of which will be a constant source of pride for the unit involved. Originally, honours were never given for a defeat, an inconclusive action or a withdrawal, but exception is now made in those few cases when such an action is felt to reflect honourably upon the units involved, such as Dieppe and Hong Kong.

A Canadian Battle Honours Committee determines which Canadian regiments can claim appropriate battle honours. Each regiment in turn determines which of its battle honours are to be emblazoned on its colours or regimental appointments.
 

The definitive explanation of how battle honours were awarded for World War I is contained in General Order 6 and General Order 7 of 1928. General Order 6 lays down the system whereby Militia units "perpetuate" those units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force which they raised during the war. Without this system of perpetuation, the bulk of battle honours won by Canadian units during World War I would be lost to Canada's military tradition. General Order 7 defines the chronological and geographical limits of each battle.

Although the number of battle honours a unit may hold is not limited, the number it may carry on its colours is limited as follows:

  • From before World War I - No maximum
  • From World War I - Maximum of 10
  • From World War II - Maximum of 10
  • From the Korean War - Maximum of 2

The Guidon of The Saskatchewan Dragoons

The accompanying photograph shows the ten battle honours carried on the Guidon of The Saskatchewan Dragoons, which was presented on 3 May 1970 by His Excellency the Right Honorable Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada.


The Guidon of The Saskatchewan Dragoons


Battle Honours of the 46th Battalion In Detail

Battle Honour Dates
Description of Action
Role of the 46th Battalion
Notes and Quotes
 
Mount Sorrel2-13 Jun 1916
This action was part of the Second Battle of Ypres. The Germans siezed the critical vantage point of Mount Sorrel from the 3rd Canadian Division on 2 June 1916; a counterattack by the 1st Canadian Division under Major General Arthur Currie retook the feature on 13 June at a cost of 8,430 casualties.
The 46th Battalion itself did not arrive in France until August 1916. However, the Dragoons hold this battle honour because a large number of soldiers originally in the 46th Battalion participated in the battle as members of other units.
"A Militia regiment, perpetuating a C.E.F. unit which sent reinforcements from Canada or England prior to its own arrival in France, will be awarded honours...in respect of battles where not less than 250 men originally in the perpetuated unit were present...if these men were in units which attacked or were attacked, the names of the battles will be available for selection as honours to be emblazoned on the Colours of the Militia regiment."

General Order 6 of 1928, Para (12)
The 46th Battalion arrived in France on 11 August 1916, and proceeded directly to the Ypres sector. After five days of "training" -- each company taking a turn in the fire trenches, losing in total one man killed and nine wounded in the process -- they took their place in the line. After 30 more days at Ypres, and 14 more casualties, the 46th moved to the vicinity of St. Omer. There they exchanged their Ross rifles for Short Magazine Lee Enfields before leaving for the Somme.
Somme 19161 Jul - 18 Nov 1916
The Allies hoped that the Somme offensive would draw German strength away from the bitter struggle at Verdun. The first day of the battle cost the British 57,450 casualties, the highest toll they have ever suffered in a single day's fighting; the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually annihilated in under half an hour -- 710 casualties out of 801 men. The battle degenerated into one of attrition. When it ended, the Allies had gained about 125 square miles of territory. Casualties were 650,000 German, 420,000 British (including 24,029 Canadians), and 195,000 French. The battles of Ancre and Ancre 1916 were part of this larger battle.
The battalion arrived at the Somme on 8 October and remained there through 24 November, playing a significant role in the battles of Ancre Heights and Ancre 1916. In addition, the battalion did rotations in the fire trenches, and provided work parties that dug and repaired trenches under fire. But even when they were out of the line, the bivouac areas in the Chalk Pits were within range of the German artillery.
"The Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked as storm troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst."

David Lloyd George


David Lloyd George, who at the start of the war was Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, became Minister of Munitions, then Secretary of State for War, and finally, on 7 December 1916, Prime Minister.
Ancre Heights1 Oct - 11 Nov 1916
The objective of this battle was a series of trench lines. One of these, Regina Trench, was located just behind the crest of Ancre Heights. A portion of Regina Trench was siezed on 21 October, but the remainder was not taken until 11 November.
The 46th Battalion provided eight platoons in support of a failed attack on Regina Trench by the 44th Battalion on 25 October 1916. Four platoons, with four machine guns, were to provide covering fire, with the other four acting as a digging party. The eight platoons suffered 14 killed, 36 wounded, and 2 missing in this action.
"B" and "C" companies from the 46th Battalion, and two companies from the 47th, conducted an attack on 11 November which seized Regina Trench, at a cost to the 46th of 81 casualties.
"...a mere depression in the chalk, in many places blown twenty feet wide, and for long stretches almost filled with debris and dead bodies."

Eyewitness description of Regina Trench after its capture
Ancre 191613-18 Nov 1916
Ancre 1916 consisted of a series of assaults on Desire Trench, which lay beyond Regina Trench. By the end of the battle, only a part of Desire Trench was in Allied hands.
"A" Company of the 46th Battalion, reinforced by 50 men from "B" company, formed part of the attacking force in a poorly-planned attack on Desire Trench on 18 November, with the rest of the battalion in the fire trenches. The attack failed, at a cost to the 46th of 37 casualties.
The 46th was ordered to relieve the 73rd Battalion on the night of November 23rd. By this point in the battle the 46th had suffered so many casualties that, according to an eyewitness report on 23 November, they could field only one man for every ten yards of frontage.
"This relief is now under way, and is a difficult one owing to the fact that the relieved Battalion is numerically very much stronger than the 46th. Every available man is going into the line, and no reserve specialists are left out. Trench strength is 365 all ranks."

Entry in the War Diary of the 46th Battalion, 23 November 1916
After relief on 24 November, the 46th Battalion spent two weeks in Bruay, about ten miles behind the front lines. On 19 December they moved back into the line at Vimy Ridge, taking over a portion of the line dominated by German positions on The Pimple, a natural fortress atop the north end of the ridge. They and the 50th Battalion served alternating shifts in the fire trenches until the 46th was relieved by the 13th Middlesex Regiment on 4 April 1917. On the 7th, while the rest of the battalion conducted practice attacks, a large work party was assigned the task of digging a jumping-off trench in front of the Canadian lines, to be used in "future operations".
Vimy 19179-14 Apr 1917
The strong German defences on Vimy Ridge had easily beaten back all previous assaults. Now the newly-formed Canadian Corps, consisting of all four Canadian divisions under the command of British General (and future Governor General of Canada) Julian Byng, was given the task of taking the ridge. On the morning of 9 April, Easter Monday, the Canadian Corps stormed up Vimy Ridge through a driving snowstorm in a meticulously-planned assault, and captured most of the position. By the 12th, Vimy Ridge was entirely in Canadian hands. On the 13th, Canadian soldiers moved virtually unopposed down the other side of the ridge and through the villages of Angres and Givenchy; the loss of Vimy Ridge had forced the Germans to pull back.
The 46th Battalion (codenamed "Harland") started the battle in reserve. However, A and B Companies moved up and onto the attack on the first day, with B Company taking three large craters near Hill 145, and A Company extending the line from there to make contact with the 11th Brigade on their right. On 10 April, the two companies, reinforced with a platoon from C Company, were attached to the 44th and 50th Battalions for the successful assault on Hill 145, the highest point on Vimy Ridge.
On 12 April, C and D Companies and the 50th and 44th Battalions stormed The Pimple and took it away from the Prussian 5th Guard Grenadier Regiment. The two companies took part in the advance through Givenchy on 13 April, and were relieved by the 1st Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry east of Givenchy on 14 April.
The 46th Battalion suffered 67 killed, 157 wounded, and several missing in the battle for Vimy Ridge.
"Am sending you with bearer (your own Company runner) the following reinforcements: 1 NCO and 6 men, also 3 L.A.R.1 men who will reinforce Lt. Johnson's post. These are carrying some bombs2 and R.3 Grenades. Also flares and white tape. Also 8 one-gallon jars rum."

Message from the Commanding Officer of the 46th Battalion to the Officer Commanding "C" Company, 3:20 pm, 12 April 1917.

1 Lewis Automatic Rifle, a light machine gun better known as the Lewis gun.
2 Hand grenades
3 Rifle grenades
Arras 1917-18 This battle honour was awarded for participation in two separate battles, fought in different years in the same area.
9 Apr - 4 May 1917
The 1917 battle of Arras was originally intended as a diversion to draw German reserves away from the area of a major French offensive (planned for a week later along the Aisne River), and later to draw German reserves away from the Third Battle of Ypres. The actions at Arras achieved several successes, such as Vimy 1917, in which the Canadian Corps took Vimy Ridge. The British offensive at Ypres achieved very little, at great cost, and the French offensive on the Aisne was an unqualified disaster.
After a week in the rear area, the 46th Battalion moved into reserve positions in the left sub-sector of Vimy Ridge on 23 April. The next day they took over support positions from the 12th Gloucester Regiment. On 1 May they relieved the 50th Battalion a short distance northwest of La Coulotte, near the crossroads where the Lens-Arras and Liévin-Avion roads meet. On 3 - 5 May they took a set of German trenches known as The Triangle, and held it against at least three German counterattacks until relieved by the 50th Battalion on 7 May.
The 46th Battalion spent the period from 7 - 27 May in the rear area. They spent the next twelve weeks taking turns in the lines, relieving the 85th Battalion twice, then the 49th Battalion, and then the 50th Battalion twice. They were relieved on 18 August, but instead of moving to the rear, they were ordered to take up new positions on the front.
Hill 7015-25 Aug 1917
LGen Sir Arthur Currie, who after Vimy Ridge was knighted, promoted, and given command of the Canadian Corps, was assigned to take the ruined town of Lens. Currie spent the morning of July 10 looking at the area from a hill behind the Canadian lines. Realizing that the key terrain was the nearby Hill 70, he sought and gained the approval of Haig to attack the hill instead of the town itself. In a carefully-planned assault incorporating artillery fire and a smoke screen, the Canadian Corps took Hill 70 on 15 August and held it against some 21 German counterattacks involving troops from five German divisions. The Canadian Corps inflicted 20,000 casualties on the Germans at a cost of 5,843, including 178 artillerymen who were shelled with mustard gas.
The 4th Canadian Division's role in the battle was to conduct a diversionary attack into the town of Lens itself. The 46th Battalion moved into the line near Liéven, on the outskirts of Lens, on 18 August. On 21 August they attacked the west side of Lens, taking their objectives east of a railway embankment in the town itself. The battalion held until relieved by the 87th Battalion on 25 August. The 46th lost 38 killed, 224 wounded, 1 missing and presumed killed, and 15 gassed in the operation. Included in this number were all the officers of B Company, killed by enemy artillery in the jumping-off trenches in the early hours of 21 August, 2 1/2 hours before the attack.
"If we were to fight at all, let us fight for something worth having."

Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Currie
The 46th Battalion spent two more weeks near Lens. Then, on 12 - 13 October, they marched north to billets at Staple, about 35 km west of Ypres.
Ypres 191731 Jul - 10 Nov 1917
This offensive was undertaken at least in part to distract the attention of the Germans from the failing morale of the French army; over 54 divisions were involved in mutinies after the failure of the French Aisne offensive at Chemin des Dames. Its objective was to achieve a breakthrough and take Ostend and other North Sea ports. The offensive is best known for one of its component actions, the battle of Passchendaele. The limited advance was the costliest ever made by a British army, and led to a loss of confidence in British army leadership by both British and Commonwealth troops.
On 21 October the 46th Battalion moved to Potijze, at the east edge of Ypres. The next day they relieved the 5th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, taking up positions in support of the 50th Battalion in the front line, where they rested and reconnoitered the ground. As a final preparation for the coming attack, 44 men moved up on October 25 to replace casualties taken in the previous four days.
Passchendaele12 Oct 1917; 26 Oct - 10 Nov 1917
The Canadian Corps carried through the assault for the "symbolic smear of brick" that was Paaschendaele, fighting in soupy mud against Germans emplaced in concrete bunkers. The Corps achieved its objective at a cost only fractionally less than LGen Currie's pre-battle estimate of 16,000 (80%) casualties. Within six months, the ground they had won was retaken by the Germans.
The 46th Battalion attacked at dawn on 26 October with four companies, each having four officers and about 131 other ranks. Attacking on a three-company front, with B Company in reserve, they reached their objectives by about 8 am. The cost was frightful, with many casualties caused by shells from the covering barrage; the Allied guns, slowly settling in the mud, were firing short. A Company reached its objective with three officers and 71 other ranks; C Company, with a captain and 35 other ranks; and D Company, with 30 other ranks led by a lance-corporal. B Company immediately reinforced the positions, while two officers were brought up from headquarters to take over what was left of D Company.
Shortly after 4 pm, the Germans counterattacked. With no artillery support, and with their weapons jamming in the mud, the 46th somehow held their positions long enough for stretcher parties to evacuate the wounded; then they withdrew to the new support trenches dug by elements of the 50th Battalion that day. However, on seeing the 46th pulling back, the 50th withdrew as well, and the 46th continued to fall back to the original jumping-off trenches, where they established a line. There they were reinforced by returning stretcher parties, as well as runners, signallers, orderly room staff and batmen from battalion headquarters, and a company of the 47th Battalion that happened to be nearby. This force advanced and established themselves in the new support trenches. They held these positions until relieved that evening by companies of the 47th Battalion.
The 46th Battalion took 402 casualties that day, of whom 62 were recorded as "missing" -- many dead or wounded soldiers simply sank into the mud. Reduced to the equivalent of a single understrength company, the 46th took no further part in the battle. After two days spent recovering the wounded and burying the dead, the battalion was withdrawn to Brandhoek.
"Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?"

Lieutenant-General Sir Launcelot Kiggel, 17 November 1917


"I can forgive the Somme, but I cannot forgive Passchendaele, because the same mistakes were made over again, in a more exaggerated form, and Passchendaele had no value strategically in the over-all picture of the war...You don't fight where you are not going to win. And that was not a place to win."

General Frank Worthington


General Worthington, founder of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, served at Passchendaele as a private with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps.
The 46th Battalion spent over two months out of the line, resting the veterans and training the replacements. On 4 January 1918, now brought up to a strength of 994 all ranks, they went into the line again at La Coulotte. The lance-corporal who had led D Company at Passchendaele was promoted to sergeant, and later sent to England for officer training. He would rejoin the unit in October as a lieutenant, and lead 13 Platoon, D Company into Valenciennes. The 46th alternated training and tours in the front lines until the beginning of August 1918. Then, over a period of a week, they moved by night to Pont de Metz, on the west outskirts of Amiens.
Amiens8-11 Aug 1918
The Australians, supported by large numbers of tanks, were ordered to attack the salient at Amiens created by the German Spring Offensive of 1918. Field Marshal Haig granted the Australians' request that the Canadian Corps fight on their flank. The Canadian Corps moved to the sector in secret, meanwhile sending two battalions, some of its medical units, and all of its radios to Ypres to deceive the Germans, who prepared for an attack wherever Canadian troops appeared. The attack at Amiens took the Germans by surprise. The Canadian Corps advanced eight miles that day and the Australians seven; Field Marshall Ludendorff of the German High Command referred to August 8 as "the black day of the German Army." Although the Canadians advanced another six miles in the next three days, the attack bogged down in the old trench lines of the 1916 battle of the Somme, against German reinforcements, and the battle ended. However, German morale had been severely damaged. This was the turning point of the war.
Elements of the 46th Battalion rode on tanks on the first day of the offensive. The rest of the 46th attacked on 10 August and took the long-abandoned trench lines from the 1916 Battle of the Somme near Maucourt, as well as the village itself. The unit suffered 114 casualties in the action.
The 46th moved back to the support lines on 13 August. On that day their commanding officer, LCol H.J. Dawson, who had contracted influenza but remained with the unit through the battle, collapsed in his dugout and was evacuated as a stretcher case. Under the acting command of Maj J.A. Hope, the battalion relieved the 50th in the front line on the 20th. After being relieved by the 2nd Battalion, 144th French Infantry Regiment on 23 August, they moved to Arras, arriving on the 28th.
Arras 1917-18 This is the second of two battles, fought in different years in the same area, for which this battle honour was awarded.
26 Aug - 3 Sep 1918
The 1918 battle marked the beginning of the drive to breach the Hindenburg Line and achieve a breakthrough that would mean defeat for Germany. It consisted of the Battle of the Scarpe and the Battle of the Drocourt-Queant Line.
Scarpe 191826-30 Aug 1918
This battle, which the Canadian Corps was planning for before the offensive at Amiens, was the start of a major drive that started just east of Arras. The plan was to attack up the valley of the Scarpe river to reach the Drocourt-Queant Line.
The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, with the British 51st Highland Division under command, took most of their objectives by the 28th. The two Canadian divisions lost 5,801 men. The 1st and 4th Division arrived on the 29th, and the 1st Division took Upton Wood, virtually annihilating the tough German 26th Reserve Division. Major Georges Vanier, commanding officer of the 22nd Regiment, and later Governor General of Canada, lost a leg in the battle.
The 46th Battalion moved into the support line on 28 August. On 30 August they moved up to the front line, with C and D Companies forward and A and B Companies back. On the 31st, Maj J.S. Rankin rejoined the unit to take over as acting commanding officer, and the company officers reconnoitered the ground in preparation for an upcoming attack. At this point the battalion's strength was 1,097 all ranks.
Drocourt-Queant2-3 Sep 1918
The Drocourt-Queant Line represented the west edge of the Hindenburg Line. The Canadian 1st and 4th Divisions, assisted by the British 52nd Division, took the line and advanced to the west bank of the Canal du Nord.
The 46th Battalion attacked through the Drocourt-Queant Line on 2 September, took the village of Dury, and held it against a German counterattack. The 46th suffered 320 casualties, including Maj Rankin, who nevertheless remained on duty. In turn they inflicted a large number of casualties on the Germans, captured a 77mm field gun, 16 machine guns, and a small anti-tank gun, and took over 400 prisoners. Included in the haul were the German area commander, his assistant and medical staff, and a large quantity of documents, which were captured when D Company, attacking on the left, overran a German headquarters.
The 46th was relieved on 4 September. They received over 150 replacements and conducted training until the 25th, when they moved back into the line, relieving elements of the 25th and 26th Battalions, and prepared to attack.
Hindenburg Line12 Sep - 9 Oct 1918
In this campaign, four Allied armies attacking over a wide front breached the German defensive positions known collectively as the Hindenburg Line and forced the Germans to retreat to the Selle River. The battle of Canal du Nord was part of this greater battle.
Canal du Nord27 Sep - 1 Oct 1918
In what was perhaps the most complex, intricately-planned, and audacious assault of the war, the Canadian Corps used ladders to cross the Canal du Nord at a dry section of the ditch. Once across, they fanned out to outflank the German defences along the rest of the canal. The Germans abandoned the village of Bourlon and retreated to the Marcoing Line, just west of Cambrai. Over the next four days the Canadian Corps fought its way into the northwest corner of Cambrai, but here the attack stalled.
The 46th Battalion was one of the lead battalions in the assault. They crossed the canal and took their initial objective, a sunken road six hundred yards beyond. The next day, the 46th continued the attack and took the Cambrai-Douai road, breaching the Marcoing Line at that point. The cost was 370 casualties. The 12th Brigade attacked through the battalion's lines on the 29th, and the 46th was withdrawn to the Divisional reserve for the remainder of the battle.
The strength of the 46th Battalion on 30 September was 567 all ranks. They had taken more casualties in September 1918 than at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele put together.
"On this day we buried all our hopes for victory."

War Diary of the German 188th Regiment, 27 September 1918


The 188th Regiment was tasked as the Bourlon garrison on the morning of 27 September.
The 46th moved to billets in Arras on 7-8 October, then moved back into the line on 14 October on the west bank of the Canal de la Sensée. On 17 October, following reports that the 1st Division had crossed the canal, a patrol crossed the canal and found that the Germans had withdrawn. There followed a pursuit of the retreating Germans, occasionally held up by machine gun posts until the artillery could catch up with the advance and deal with them. The 46th was relieved on 22 October by the 85th Battalion near the Canal d'Escaut, within sight of Valenciennes. They pulled back to Denain, where they were inspected by Major Edward Windsor, the Prince of Wales, on 27 October. On the 29th, now only 405 strong, they moved to Thiant, south of Valenciennes.
Valenciennes1-2 Nov 1918
Valenciennes was the key to the Hermann line, the last German defensive line in France. The well-fortified city, guarded on its south by a 150-foot hill known as Mont Houy, was defended by elements of five German divisions. After the British 51st Highland Division failed to capture Mont Houy on 28 October, the 4th Canadian Division was assigned the task. After a thorough and scientific bombardment, the 47th and 44th Battalions were to take the hill, and the 50th and 46th Battalions were to continue on to attack the city.
The Canadian artillery delivered a massive bombardment with 108 heavy guns plus the field artillery of three divisions. Brigadier-General McNaughton, commanding the Canadian Corps heavy artillery, stated that his guns fired a weight of shells not much less than that fired by both sides in the entire Boer War. The attack reached its objectives early in the day, and the Canadians sent out patrols to exploit the situation. By dawn the next day, the Germans had abandoned the city to the Canadians. The British took the steel works in the suburb of Marly on the 2nd.
The Germans fought a series of small rear-guard actions between Valenciennes and Mons, Belgium, which Canadian troops entered before the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, ending the war.
On 1 Nov, the 46th Battalion - at this point only 405 strong - mingled with the 44th Battalion during the initial advance, then continued into the city alone. Together with the 44th, they killed over 800 Germans and took 800 prisoners from five infantry and two machine gun regiments. In addition, the 46th captured seven field guns, six mortars, two anti-tank guns, and 45 machine guns. The 46th suffered 126 casualties - over 30% of the men who started the attack. Included in this number was Sergeant Hugh Cairns, who won, posthumously, the last Canadian Victoria Cross of the war.
France and Flanders 1916-1918Aug 1916-Nov 1918
This is a "Theatre of War Honour".
The 46th Battalion participated in small actions, trench raids, and day-to-day trench warfare not considered to be battles. As a commentator in a later war noted, an action is not minor to the man who loses his life in it.
"Bloody fools! We have them on the run. That means we shall have to do it all over again in another twenty-five years."

General Andrew McNaughton
reacting to the signing of the Armistice


Andrew George Latta McNaughton, born in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, rose to command Canada's artillery in France in World War I. In World War II he commanded a Canadian army before becoming Minister of Defence in 1944.


Bibliography

Berton, Pierre, Marching As To War, Canada: Anchor Canada, 2001

Giesler, Patricia, Valour Remembered, Ottawa: Department of Veterans Affairs, 1982

Gilbert, Martin, The First World War, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994

Marteinson, John et al, We Stand On Guard, Montreal: Ovale Publications, 1992

McWilliams, James L. and Steel, R. James, The Suicide Battalion, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1978

Morton, Desmond, and Granatstein, J.L., Marching to Armageddon, Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Limited, 1989

Natkiel, Richard, Atlas of Battles, New York: The Military Press, 1984

Nicholson, Colonel G.W.L., Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1964; published on the Internet by the Directorate of History and Heritage

Young, Brigadier Peter, with Calvert, Brigadier Michael, A Dictionary of Battles 1816-1976, New York: Mayflower Books, 1977

War Diaries - 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion; published on the Internet by The National Archives of Canada: 10 August 1916 - 30 September 1917; 1 October 1917 - 30 September 1918; and 1 October 1918 - 30 April 1919


The Saskatchewan Dragoons gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance provided by the Directorate of  History and Heritage.


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Last updated 5 February 2004.

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