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Baden-Powell and the Scout Movement before 1920-Springhall

Baden-Powell and the Scout Movement before 1920: Citizen Training or Soldiers of the
Author(s): John Springhall
Source: The English Historical Review , Oct., 1987, Vol. 102, No. 405 (Oct., 1987), pp.
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/572003
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The English Historical Review
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English Historical Review
? 1987 Longman Group UK Limited 0013-8266/87/1958/0934/$03.oo
Baden-Powell and the Scout Movement
before 1920: Citizen Training or Soldiers of
the Future?"
ALLEN WARREN opens his robust yet provocative article on BadenPowell, the Scout movement and citizen training in Britain by contrast-
ing the judgements made by historians writing mainly in the early
I970S with his own interpretation of the professed aims and methods
of the Boy Scouts and their enthusiasts before the First World War.
His article, based largely upon the extensive collection of written
records in the Scout Association Archives, attempts to demonstrate
that whereas previous historians have placed the Scouting movement
firmly within the context of military and imperial values, often associated with an ideology of social control, a revisionist reading of the
documents would suggest that it was much more pluralistic, part of
'a whole spectrum of opinion which had the ideal of citizen training
at its core and of which the National Service League was the militaristic
end'.1 Dr Warren also gives proper recognition, long overdue, to
the important role played in the origins of Scouting by the Boys' Brigade
(BB) and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and lends
a welcome new precision to the concept of militarism in relation to
the young in Britain before I9I4. Lack of space makes it difficult to
respond here in any detail to his less convincing assertions concerning
the extent to which the Scout movement actively resisted any military
or cadet connection both before and during the First World War. It
could, for example, be argued that Baden-Powell subsequently modified his position - with regard to the incorporation of the Boy Scouts
within his friend Haldane's famous second line of national defence less from choice than as a response to both internal and external
(YMCA) anti-militarist pressures. Warren's foremost point, however,
is that the ultimate aim of the Boy Scouts was individual character
training for 'practical good citizenship', whereby scouts could be identified as contributing to the education of the future citizen rather than
to the training of the future soldier or territorial. I hope to demonstrate
* lam extremely grateful to TimJeal, currentlypreparing a major new biography of Baden-Powell,
for drawing my attention to numerous apposite references he had found in the Scout Association
Archives that have been utilised in the writing of this reply and to Graham Coombe, their Archivist,
for kindly making the Scout records available to me. My colleague, Sean Connolly, made several
helpful suggestions which I hope have served to strengthen the argument in places.
i. Allen Warren, 'Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Scout Movement and Citizen Training in Great
Britain, 1900-I920', ante, ci (I986), 38I.
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in this short reply that a complete
can be put forward to reassert the e
when Baden-Powell organized his S
one primary motive - to prepare the
for war and the defence of the Empi
For Warren is inclined to exclude
to be found in the Scout Archives
of Scouting before I920 as made up
which enabled it to carve out a satisf
an unexceptionable scheme of citiz
young. Thus there is no reference
article to the lengthy corresponde
Scout Headquarters and Sir Francis F
missioner for London in I909, who broke with the Baden-Powell
Scouts - and threatened to take the entire London membership with
him - over a number of issues, including their alleged militarism, and
became the President of the pacifist British Boy Scouts. It was Vane
who first denounced the recruitment of so many supporters of Lord
Roberts and the National Service League (NSL) to the Boy Scout Governing Council - a connection which Warren considers to have been
overstated by historians - claiming that this led to 'a military cabal
controlling a great educational movement'.2 What is even more surprising in this omission is that Vane, who energetically opposed the
'misdirection' of the movement - with some effect in view of BadenPowell's subsequent espousal of Peace Scouting - carefully excluded
Sir Robert himself from any conscious responsibility for the 'militarisation' of the Boy Scouts and put it down to the Chief Scout's advisers
rather than to original intention. Undoubtedly differences of temperament and personality, as later with John Hargrave, found expression
in terms of the contemporary armoury of invective, but Vane remained
adamant that the appointment of men like Sir Edmund Elles as Chief
Scout Commissioner (from I909 to I922) meant the introduction of
those who would 'give the movement a military direction' and were
only interested in getting recruits for the Territorials. Warren prefers
to believe that the association with the NSL is the wrong bias to give
Baden-Powell and his Scouting for Boys, suggesting instead that the
i. For the earlier interpretation: Samuel Hynes, The Edwardian Turn of Mind (London, I968),
p. 27; John Gillis, Youth and History: Tradition and Change in European Age Relations (New
York, I98I edn.), pp. 143-7; John Springhall, 'The Boy Scouts, Class and Militarism in relation
to British Youth Movements, I908-I930', InternationalReview of Social History, xvi (I97), I25--I 58;
idem, Youth, Empire and Society: British Youth Movements, I883-I940 (London, 1977), pp. 53-70.
2. Sir Francis Vane, The Boy Knight: Essays and Addresses on the Evolution of the Boy Scout
Movement (National Peace Scouts, I9 io), p. I 5; John Springhall, 'The Boy Scouts, Class and Militarism', ubi supra, 137-8, 149-50. Baden-Powell may have 'had little contact with Roberts' (Warren,
p. 387) after the latter retired as C-in-C in 1904 but on his I9I0 Canadian visit he took out with
him a party of Lord Roberts's Boys and Cadets to compete in rifle shooting. 'In the Footsteps
of the Conqueror of Quebec', Canadian Military Gazette, I3 September I9I0, SAA/TC9.
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Chief Scout's lukewarm attitude towards re
charges of militarism against the new youth
Private correspondence, always far more rev
ments about the real intentions behind a mov
a much more ambivalent answer than Warren
tion of whether or not the Boy Scouts wer
'I may say for your Lordship's informatio
at Headquarters - possibly Elles - on 3 Au
Meath, whom Baden-Powell had recently r
formed Scout Council, 'that we are a Peace or
time, the main reason being that a very la
allow their boys to join the Boy Scouts, w
general military service' (my italics). Meat
a Boy Scout efficiency badge for shooting an
policy to allow any scout troop to have milita
desired it. 'Personally, I should like to see all Boy Scouts drilled',
the author of the letter confessed; 'I look upon the Movement as a
further saving of the situation for the nation in the future, and that
it will pave the way directly for its national service'.2 Clearly the
Scout Association wished to appear 'all things to all men', but evidence
such as this suggests that it would be entirely possible to counter War-
ren's view that Scouting was linked with progressive educational opinion, such as the wartime conferences on 'New ideals in Education',
by citing pre-war appeals to less enlightened imperialist and militarist
propagandists, among whom Warren himself includes the Earl of
Meath, founder of Empire Day, both a vice-president and on the execu-
tive of the NSL and Scout Commissioner for Ireland from I9I I until
his death in I928.3
Certainly, if we look more closely at pre-war statements by the
leadership on cadet training, when the Scout Association was less directly under threat from the compulsory cadet-force lobby than in wartime, it emerges that, on the whole, scout training - rather than being
in rivalry with the cadets - was sold to the military lobby as providing
a much better foundation than drill for the potential cadet or territorial
recruit in his late teens. The idea was to encourage all boys, particularly
i. Vane, The Boy Knight, p. 7; Vane to Baden-Powell, 4 June I9I0, S[cout] A[ssociation]
A[rchives], BBS Folder 2; Vane, 'Agin the Governments (London, I929), p. 2I0; Warren, ubi supra,
388-9; Captain Noemo [pseudon.], The Boy Scout Bubble: A Review of a Great Futility (London,
I9I2), criticises Scouting for its militarism etc. and insists upon an exclusively religious purpose.
2. Anon. to Meath, unsigned draft, 3 August I9I0, SAA, TC/42; for unfounded fears of parents
in rural areas that Boy Scouts would have to become soldiers: Percy Everett to Baden-Powell,
i6 September I909 and 27 May I9I0, SAA, PWE 3/8.
3. On Meath: John Springhall, 'Lord Meath, Youth and Empire', Journal of Contemporary His-
tory, v (1970), 97-III; J. A. Mangan, 'The Grit Of Our Forefathers', in John M. MacKenzie,
ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester, i986), pp. II3-39. The War Office, enclosing
copies of the draft regulations for cadet corps to Meath, agreed strongly 'with the view you expressed
as to the desirability of linking up the various boys' organizations with the Territorial Force'. Lord
Lucas to Meath, I October I909, Meath Papers, vol. S/ I 3 i, Killrudd6ry, Ireland.
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in the Dominions, to become Boy Scouts fro
then to become 'proper' cadets from fourteen
Dominions followed Canada, Baden-Powell told Meath on 30
December I909, then 'we might supply the nucleus for a general standard of training and efficiency for the Empire'. Scouts holding the
King's Badge should be given exemption from recruits' drill, since they
were 'already trained in the essentials of soldiering. The Scout training
being different in its details will not discourage and bore the boys from
taking up the more military drill and work of Cadets'.1 In other
words, Baden-Powell saw scout training as travelling to the same destination of greater military efficiency as cadet training but by a different
route of character formation and training in individual citizenship. The
early years of the Boy Scouts can only be understood, that is, within
the prevailing Edwardian military culture. 'Scouting for boys was originated in the Training that was given to Army recruits before the final
instruction in drill and strictly military details. It is therefore the essen-
tial training to put into the boys before they become Cadets', wrote
Baden-Powell in a report of his I9I2 visit to South Africa. 'Thus the
Scout movement can be of the greatest service to the Defence Authorities (in South Africa) if they like to avail themselves of it, as is being
done in other British overseas Dominions and in Russia and many
other foreign countries'.2 Statements such as this have to be read,
admittedly, within the context of stringent government legislation in
the Dominions regarding compulsory military training for the young.
While Warren acknowledges that the development of Baden-Powell's
responses to domestic issues during his initiation into British civilian
life from I903 to I907 are best revealed from the speeches he made
around the country, he seems reluctant to offer much in the way of
quotation lest it spoil his image of a 'rather guileless' soldier-hero.
'We ought to have an army in England to protect our country', claimed
Baden-Powell to applause on 27 March I903, after inspecting a Cadet
Battalion of which he was the Honorary Colonel at Southport. In
contrast to his later statements highly critical of cadet training, to which
Warren draws our attention, the hero of Mafeking here praises the
i. Baden-Powell to Meath, 30 December I909, Meath Papers, vol. 5/5i, Killruddery, Ireland.
'If this is carried out universally', claimed Baden-Powell in I9IO to the Military Secretary of the
Governor General of Canada, 'we shall establish a standard and bond throughout the Cadets of
the coming Imperial Army. Do help!' Baden-Powell to Lord Lanesborough, 9 January I9IO, SAA,
TC/9; in October I9IO a cadet subcommittee of the Scout executive met at least once, its members
being Sir Edmund Elles and Colonel H. S. Brownrigg, both members of the NSL, and General
Sir Herbert Plumer, vice-chairman of the Scout executive. SAA, 2/ i 6.
2. Baden-Powell, 'Notes on the Boy Scout Movement in South Africa', August I9I2, SAA, TC/53;
'The drilled Scout .. . will have learnt so much from nature and from his Scout instruction that
he will not think squad and company drill "tommy rot". Therefore', remarked Baden-Powell, after
his visit to South Africa, 'what an immense recruiting field this opens at a minimum of expense'.
SAA, TC/29.
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potential contribution of cadets to the defence of Britain. If it came
to a fight, did not a boy have a hand just as capable of pulling a trigger
as a man? If British boys were trained for the work 'there would be
no need (sic) why they should not take their place in our third line
in defending our shores'.1 Many such pronouncements, reflecting
fears of invasion, racial deterioration, imperial decline and the consequent need for military preparedness, could be selected from what Warren elsewhere refers to as Baden-Powell's 'defensive domestic
imperialism' phase. In the light of these public speeches, should we
believe that a career-soldier - already fifty at the time of the first Boy
Scout camp on Brownsea Island in I907 - could entirely change his
mental outlook and become instead a convert to Warren's harmlesssounding 'individual character training for citizenship' (p. 386) as the
ultimate aim of his new youth organization? The Scouting movement
was, after all, founded during a time of insecurity and anxiety for the
English middle-classes - faced by the threat of socialism from within
and Germany from without - by a famous soldier of the largest empire
on earth who gave evidence of sharing such preoccupations to the full.2
In I980 Michael Rosenthal published an article - overlooked by Warren - in which he claimed to have discovered the earliest version of
the Boy Scout scheme in a long letter from Baden-Powell to the Eton
College Chronicle of 22 December I904, where the future Chief Scout
outlines a scheme of training for boys whose most striking feature
is an uncomplicated appeal to military training as the purpose behind
the formation of embryonic Scout groups. The para-military role this
document assigns the Eton College scheme, Rosenthal points out, helps
us to understand one of the primary motives behind the formation
of the Scouts and, except by implication, it entirely lacks the emphasis
on character training or good citizenship that Warren emphasizes as
essential to the later movement - being more concerned with the far
narrower problem of conferring some military training on the youth
of Britain. 'The Scout goal of training the rising generation to be exemp-
lary citizens and useful colonists, an aspiration calculated to appeal
particularly to the older generation, does not lend its tone of moral
I. '"B.P." in Southport', The Southport Visiter, 28 March 1903; presiding not long after at the
annual London Boys' Brigade demonstration, Baden-Powell encouraged the BB to become 'a strong
force behind the Volunteers and the Army', The Times, 9 May 1903. Significantly, Baden-Powell
inspected the BB in Liverpool on 14 April 1904 'under Lord Roberts's instructions'. B-P's Staff
Diary as Inspector-General of Cavalry, MS 641 1/I/I-i 8, National Army Museum, London.
2. As late as May I908 Baden-Powell gave a lecture as CO of the Northumbrian Division of
the Territorials on the need to prepare against the threat of a German invasion: Newcastle Daily
Chronicle, 4 May I908; Allen Warren, 'Citizens of the Empire: Baden-Powell, Scouts and Guides,
and an Imperial Ideal', in John M. MacKenzie, ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture, p. 235;
on B-P's fears of physical and racial deterioration: John Springhall, "'Planting the Seeds of Imperial
Ruin and National Decay": The Youth Question and its relation to the Future of the British Nation,
1900-I9I4', in Philip Cohen and Graham Murdock, eds., The Making of the Youth Question (Macmillan, forthcoming).
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urgency to the I904 formulation'
have mentioned that in the same m
Message to Loyal Britishers' was printed in the widely read Harms-
worth boys' publications The Marvel and The Union Jack, appealing
once again to the patriotic spirit in the likelihood that England would
some day be attacked just as Mafeking had been by a large number
of enemies. Boys were encouraged to learn how to drill and to aim
and shoot with a small rifle. 'That is the fellow who is going to be
useful if England is attacked', Baden-Powell's message went on, 'as
he will have made himself strong and active by games, and knows
how to drill and shoot, and will be therefore useful as a soldier or
volunteer'. In a postscript, Baden-Powell added that he would be glad
to hear from the captains of any football or cricket elevens who took
up the idea of also making themselves a good eleven for fighting and
soldiering, 'and therefore useful to our King and Country when
To understand the aims and practices of Scouting it is not enough to
focus on the statements of Baden-Powell and the Headquarters leadership. Some of Warren's disclaimers regarding the military intentions
behind the movement can best be tested at the grass roots level of
local practice. Where he discounts the influence of the pro-conscriptionist NSL, it is perhaps significant that many of the early Scout Commis-
sioners held military rank, and several chairmen of local Scout
Associations were advocates of League policy. Major James, Chairman
of the Oxford Boy Scouts Association (I908-09) and his successor,
Sir Montague Burrows (I909-35), were both on the executive of the
local branch of the NSL before I9I4.3 In Hampshire, as in other
English counties, a great many ex-army officers and men helped run
the early Scout movement, often because only ex-army personnel had
the necessary expertise to be scoutmasters. Where troops stressed signalling, drill or rifle shooting in their scout training programmes, it
was usually as a consequence of the previous military experience of
their scoutmasters. In the main, ex-officers became District Scoutmasters and Commissioners, and ex-NCOs and privates actually ran the
Scout troops, so that a military hierarchy by rank was carried over
into local Scouting. In I9I0, out of 250 Presidents and Commissioners
of Boy Scouts listed in The Headquarters Gazette, I40 were classified
i. Michael Rosenthal, 'Knights and Retainers: The Earliest Version of Baden-Powell's Boy Scout
Scheme', Journal of Contemporary History, xv (I980), 6i5. This author's The Character Factory:
Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement (London, 1986), arrived too late in
Northern Ireland for its wholly supportive arguments to be incorporated into this present piece:
the book is a relentless, and sometimes over-emphatic, indictment of Baden-Powell's imperialist
and militarist presuppositions.
2. 'Major-General Baden-Powell's Message to Loyal Britishers', The Marvel, December 1904,
postscript 'early io05', SAA.
3. Minutes, Executive Committee, Oxford Boy Scouts Association, 2 September I909, Dep. d/5o,
Bodleian Library, Oxford University; John Gillis, Youth and History, p. 146.
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as serving or retired military officer
Presidents and Commissioners, 247 or 70 per cent were military men.
For example, Colonel Harry Crichton was the first Scout County Com-
missioner in Hampshire and in I9 I 3 Colonel Dyson, Winchester's District Commissioner, resigned and Colonel Kelly took over. This
connection between the scouts and the army in Hampshire before the
First World War also meant that combined parades and even exercises
with the Territorials took place, as when Romsey's Scouts were in
parade with the Territorials at the handover of the old Volunteer colours
in I9I2.1
The Secretary of the West Essex Scouts wrote to the Essex branch
magazine of the NSL in October i9 I0 that the large number of ex-Scouts
joining the Territorials was a satisfactory feature of progress and that
the Scouting movement was by no means to be despised as a possible
recruiting ground. Furthermore, Baden-Powell frequently defended
Scouting to the compulsory cadet enthusiasts, and to his military colleagues, on the grounds that it made a better soldier or territorial later
on than a boy who had been taught military drill in the cadets like
a machine. Thus while assuring worried Nonconformist parents in the
North of England that Scouting had nothing to do with soldiering,
Baden-Powell was simultaneously seeking the support of the military
lobby by persuading them that Boy Scouts produced the best possible
recruits for the Army. In the I920S and early I930S public opinion
reacted against militarism, and the character of Scouting gradually
changed, scoutmasters increasingly being drawn from within the movement itself, from ex-scouts rather than ex-soldiers, and internationalism
became the watchword of the Imperial Scout Headquarters. However
genuine this new policy of liberalization was in practice, the British
Left persisted in identifying the Boy Scouts with militarism and imperia-
lism. Hence in I923, when Baden-Powell attempted to get the Labour
Party represented more fully on the Scout Council, both Ramsay Mac-
Donald, soon to become Labour's first Prime Minister, and George
Lansbury turned him down - the former referring to the socialist fear
that Scouting was under the effective control of masters who intended
to see it militarized.2
i. M. J. Dedman, 'Scouting Grew Quickly in Hampshire', Hampshire Magazine, xxii, no. 5
(March, I982), 57-60; 'Lists of Scout Personnel' in Headquarters Gazette, ii (April, I9IO), I9;
iii (December, I9IO), I6-I9; Captain Noemo, The Boy Scout Bubble, p. 8. A former Wolf Cub
who went to his first camp under canvas in August I9I8 remembers: 'Our Commissioner was
a scout with B-P in the Boer War, with a wound to prove it. Our cub masters were Royal Flying
Corps pilots. We had army-type discipline and we enjoyed it, because we were proud of being
part of this movement'. Letters, London Standard, 4 September I986.
2. In one year one troop alone in West Essex supplied thirteen Territorial recruits: The Patriot,
iii (October, I9 IO), p. 6; 'Extract from "The Nation In Arms", October 191 1', SAA, TC/42; Warren
himself makes the point that 'scout training would make both better Territorials and better citizens
than any drill-based cadet training as advocated by the National Service League' (pp. 387-88). For
the full text of the Labour leaders' refusals: E. E. Reynolds, Baden-Powell (London, 1942), pp.
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In disentangling the various elements or 'many-mansioned houses'
of popular militarism so neatly - 'military' militarism, 'democratic'
or citizen training militarism and 'Christian' militarism - Warren
appears unaware that this only serves to expose how all-pervasive mili-
tary and patriotic values were in Edwardian society. Further, if we
accept that, in the years during which Baden-Powell was preparing
his Scouting scheme, ideas of national efficiency, racial deterioration
and social Darwinism were much more central to intellectual debate
than the amorphous concept of citizen training, then it is hardly surprising that Warren should make a spurious attempt to persuade the reader
that the social and cultural concerns of contemporary society were
not at all central to Baden-Powell's thinking (p. 397). Pace Warren,
it would be difficult to make even a cursory examination of BadenPowell's journalistic and more formal writings without becoming aware
of his sensitivity to contemporary issues.' It is citizen training which
should be seen as peripheral (a passing genuflection to current educational fashion) to Scouting's central concern with the threat of national
decadence and inadequate military preparation ('Be Prepared') for a
potential war against Germany - rather than, as Warren insists, the
other way around. For the lesson that the British imperialists had drawn
from their South African experience, as A. P. Thornton remarked nearly
thirty years ago, was not that war against the Boers had been a mistaken
policy, 'but that their equipment in carrying it out had not been up
to the proper mark, and therefore a task of repair and renovation of
the available forces was now the first essential'.2 Whatever changes
in direction took place after I920, the Boy Scouts were primarily
intended by Baden-Powell to serve as a form of long-term insurance
against any recrudescence of the political and military incompetence
he came to identify with the war in South Africa. Militarism and imperialism do not, in other words, represent merely inessential dimensions
of Scouting - part of the 'envelope of socio-political attitudes and fads'
(p. 386) which Warren believes has distorted the true bias of Scouting
for Boys in its first edition - but fundamental instigators behind the
launching of the Scout movement, central to Baden-Powell's vision
of the world.
In I9I3 Baden-Powell wrote to the editor of The Manchester Guardian accusing his critics of lifting phrases from Scouting for Boys out
of context, such as 'every boy should learn to shoot'. What these words
actually meant, Baden-Powell alleged, was 'that though citizenship
i. As Warren puts it more accurately elsewhere, Baden-Powell's writings 'tend to reflect immediate
contemporary concerns both domestically and imperially' and given their sheer quantity are often
intellectually inconsistent: Warren, 'Citizens of the Empire', ubi supra, p. 238.
2. A. P. Thornton, The Imperil Idea and Its Enemies (London, ig5g edn.), p. 73. 'Now is the
time while enthusiasm is still warm and before we sink back into our English easy chair', wrote
Baden-Powell to his publisher in I900, 'for us to prepare a wise and practical organisation of the
splendid material lying ready to our hand'. Cited by W. S. Adams, Edwardian Portraits (London,
1957), p- 123-
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is the aim of Scout training, rifle-shooting may come into it, but it
would do so as part of the duty of a citizen in preparing himself to
take his share in the defence of his Country or home; the words underlined are "the context"'.' Just so. It was never the intention of the
Boy Scouts to turn out citizens who might become pacifists or conscientious objectors. The Scouting movement before I9I4 should, therefore,
be seen within the 'context' of preparing the next generation of British
soldiers, volunteers and conscripts to be more efficient, characterful
and self-reliant than their Boer War predecessors, however much official
Scouting rhetoric may have claimed 'good citizenship'as its overriding
University of Ulster JOHN SPRINGHALL
i. Baden-Powell to Editor, Manchester Guardian, marked 'sent by C
SAA, TC/29. Cf. correspondence columns in this newspaper from 17
of militarism and the Boy Scouts of which an editorial remarked presci
never end, of itself, for both sides are right; at least, both have someth
be altogether dismissed', 'Boy Scouts and Militarism', Manchester Guard
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