An Island To Oneself

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Its Hypnosis
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An Island To Oneself

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Prepers might be interested to read the story of a man that left every thing behind and went to live in a remote little islet in the middle of the pacific in 1952.
He spent 16 years there, living on fish, garden and fruits. He wrote a book of his experiance entitled: An Island To Oneself. Chapter 2 (included below) has a list of the things he brought with him and along the book there are precious hints that worth knowing to anyone aiming to do a self-sufficient life style.

Chapter 2

...I had only a fortnight before I sailed and there was so much to do. Nor could I turn to my friends for advice, for after all what would they know about living on a desert island? Even Andy was away at sea. Now the great moment had come, I was alone.

And maybe this was the best way, because once I calmed down, I discovered I really knew exactly what I would need. It was just a matter of getting things sorted out in my mind, so that the sudden thoughts that kept rushing in–like "I must get a crowbar!"–"How will I stop my tea going fusty?"–were pigeonholed in some sort of order.

I forced myself to concentrate on the island. I knew the coast-watchers had left some years ago, but I remembered now that they had had a flat-bottomed boat almost like a punt–and the chances were it would still be there. But would it be seaworthy? I made a mental note to buy a few copper nails.

I do not know how long I sat there–probably a couple of hours–whilst I jotted down the most vital items on an old bit of paper. But oddly enough, once I had got up and returned to the familiar world outside my shack, I never needed that piece of paper again. For my requirements now seemed written like a list in my mind where I suppose they had probably been accumulating subconsciously throughout all the years of waiting.

I was not afraid. That I can honestly say. Perhaps I was a little overawed by the challenge I had taken on. I was fifty now. And this dream of mine had been essentially a dream of youth. Was I too old now to turn this dream into successful reality? I flattered myself I was still in excellent shape, but there was no doubt that physical hardship would fall more heavily on me than it would have done twenty years ago; and then there was the possibility of falling ill . . . .

By the following day, however, I was back to normal–and I started as efficiently as I could to make an inventory of my possessions. I still have it on faded pieces of paper, dated August 1952. There are several lists; one headed "Personal Effects," another "The Kai Room" ("Kai" is the native word for eating, so my kai room list contained all the things I used for eating and cooking). The third list was headed "Tools."

How well I remember my very first purchase. It was a sack of Australian flour, from a shipment which had just arrived. This was a rare luxury in Raro as we naturally bought everything we could from New Zealand, but I had cooked with Australian flour from time to time and knew from experience that it would keep much longer than the local brand.

I also knew that once the news of its arrival got around, there would be a run on it, for the South Seas stores are really more like warehouses than shops, and when shipments of new lines arrive to be piled up against the shelves of the barn-like buildings, everyone in town rushes to buy. So I was down at Raro’s "shopping district" as soon as the stores opened, asking the assistant at Donald’s, whom I had known for years, "Any of the Australian flour left?"

"Sure, Tom," he replied. "How much–a couple of pounds?

"How much is it?"

"Sixpence a pound."

"Oh well," I pretended to hesitate, secretly enjoying the joke, "Might as well take a fifty-pound sack!"

He nearly dropped it; and at that moment the wife and daughter of a Government official came in, and stared in astonishment at the sight of Neale buying a whole sack of flour, so on the spur of the moment I added, as casually as I could, "While I’m here, I’d better take a seventy-pound bag of sugar!"

After that, the news was soon round Raro–even though I said very little myself. But you can’t keep secrets on an island of only eight thousand people, especially when I–normally so careful–began to buy goods by the sackful.

Most of the stores like Donald’s or the Cook Islands Trading Company–both famous island firms–had their functional buildings grouped on or near Main Road between the solid whit e building of the Residency and Avarua harbour, and now I started shopping in earnest.

I came in for a lot of good-natured banter. After all, I had been on friendly terms with some of the assistants for a long time, and the sight of me staggering out of Donald’s with enough coffee beans to last a year was bound to provoke curiosity or mirth.

At least I faced no problems as far as my "personal effects" were concerned. These consisted of a couple of pairs of long trousers, a few singlets, three or four light shirts, two pairs of khaki shorts, three pareus (a sort of native sarong), two pairs of sandals and a raincoat. Naturally, I also had my Navy "housewife," a razor, an old shaving-brush, a toothbrush, and a pocket-knife.

My sleeping gear was simple, although you could hardly call it extensive. I had my kapok mattress, a pair of sheets, an ex-Navy blanket, another lighter blanket, two pillows, two pillow slips and two towels. I planned to roll the whole lot up in the mattress, which I would wrap round with some old pandanus matting for protection when the time came to sail.

I needed only a few other personal effects. I invested in thread and needles for my "housewife"; I bought twenty-four razor blades which would last me some years, for I had long since learned that by sharpening them in a glass under water, I was able to use the same blade for three months or so. I thought I would probably shave twice a week, though I received several amiable suggestions that it would be cheaper–and more in keeping with my illustrious predecessor, Robinson Crusoe–to grow a beard. The same assistant who sold me the blades also asked me why I didn’t have all my teeth out before leaving instead of wasting money on the four tubes of toothpaste I bought.

Yet the interesting thing is that during the fortnight there was nothing malicious or sarcastic in any of the humour. Nobody was trying to take a rise out of me; indeed, I had a feeling, as I suddenly became a sort of local curiosity, that most people were secretly envying me.

I remember going into Donald’s and ordering two pairs of rubber-soled tennis shoes which I knew would be necessary to protect my feet when fishing on the coral reef. The salesman was an old pal of mine, and after saying jokingly, "Want anybody to carry your bags?" he added quite earnestly, "Two pairs isn’t enough, Tom. You know the islands better than I do, but let’s face it, you’ve always been near a store. What’s going to happen when these shoes wear out–or if you lose them?" He was right–and I bought six pairs. It turned out to be a very wise decision.

I planned to pack my clothes in an old suitcase and an equally ancient but serviceable Gladstone bag. Wonderful bags, the Gladstones–they have a great capacity for stretching and into this one, besides my clothes, I tucked a supply of writing materials; two bottles of ink, half a dozen spare nibs, some paper and envelopes, two big Collins "Trader" diaries–a page to a day–and a calendar.

As the day of departure drew nearer, I paid almost daily visits to the Mahurangi which lay in Avarua harbour. I knew most of the Cook Island crew–indeed, one or two of them had sailed with me on other vessels–and I would stop and chat with them, perhaps drawn towards them by a common love of the sea, perhaps because I knew they would be taking me to Suvarov, perhaps because I needed some reassurance; and when Dick Brown, who regarded my frequent visits with amusement, asked one morning, "What’s the trouble, Tom? Scared we’ll leave without you?" I suddenly felt a little cross and answered seriously and surlily, "You can’t. I’ve paid my passage money."

For the truth is, I probably was a little frightened. It was never a predominant emotion–I never for a moment considered abandoning the enterprise–but, well, there were the odd times when I wondered if I weren’t a bit too old, and there were times when I asked myself if I really realised what life would be like without another human being to talk to for months on end.

I would hardly have been natural had I not occasionally felt this way, but the flashes of despondency always passed quickly. Quite apart from the fact that I had a great deal to do, I now became quite touched by the way people I hardly counted as friends rallied round. One day, staggering home with several parcels, a woman I knew only slightly offered me a lift in her car, and when we reached my shack in the valley she said, "Tom I envy you. It’s the sort of thing everybody would love to do. I’ve got a very good barometer I never use–I’d like to lend it to you."

It was exactly what I wanted but could not afford, and I accepted it gratefully. Then when I had difficulty finding two heavy strips of flat-iron which I wanted as firebars to rest on stones, the P.W.D., (Public Works Department) for whom I had worked occasionally, offered to give me a couple. A Government department!

I even had more than one proposition from the ladies. And I may say that I was tempted, for the Cook Island women are not only handsome but wonderfully adaptable, used to hard work, and can turn their hands to anything. Frisbie had found great happiness with his native wife, so when one woman of about thirty, the sister of a Cook Island friend, quite seriously offered to come (adding ingenuously, "You don’t need to marry me!") I definitely considered the possibility.

However, I decided against it. I had been batching so long I really didn’t need a woman. And, perhaps most of all, the prospect of being cooped up with a woman who might eventually annoy me, of being imprisoned with her–like a criminal on Devil’s Island, without hope of escape–made me shudder. I would be better off as a middle-aged bachelor.

Curiously, those of my acquaintances who (sometimes facetiously and with sly winks) suggested I should take a woman to Suvarov all seemed most concerned lest I should fall ill alone, and regarded a "wife" as a necessity in case she had to play the role of nurse.

Indeed, the most persistent question posed by my friends during these last two hectic weeks was, "Aren’t you afraid of illness?"

Was I? I don’t think so. I cannot deny that occasionally a moment of apprehension flitted across my mind, particularly at the thought of an unexpected accident such as a broken limb. But any fears were fleeting. I couldn’t allow myself to be afraid, otherwise I might just as well go back to storekeeping. And I have always been fit, apart from the odd dose of fever. My eyesight was good, and as far as accidents were concerned, men like myself who are used to living very close to nature gradually acquire a special sort of protective instinct when using tools like saws or axes, or heating metal or climbing trees. It is the tenderfoot who usually cuts or burns himself. Automatically, I was in the habit of taking far greater care than the normal man.

I was, however, worried about the possibility of toothache, for that was something I could not control. I had had an upper plate for several years, but I went to the dentist and told him to take out as many of my bottom teeth as he wanted! It says much for my simple life that he only extracted one–and I have never had toothache.

I had to take some medical precautions, but I could not afford to take a really extensive kit, much as I would have liked to have it. Drugs cost so much. So I had to content myself with plenty of bandages, sticking-plaster, Germolene, a supply of Band-Aid, a little cotton wool, one bottle of Vaseline and a half-pint bottle of Mertholiate, plenty of antiseptic, some sulphur thiazole (M & B) tablets for fevers. I bought no aspirin because I never get headaches.

Of course, I did not spend one day buying food, or another selecting pots and pans. Like any housewife, I became a familiar figure in the local stores, carrying my shopping lists and buying whatever I needed from the heaped shelves and counters. I used to stagger home with my purchases, tick them off on my list and then pack them in a motley assembly of variously sized parcels, making a note of the contents of each packet.

I spent a great deal of time on my food list. I knew I would never starve on Suvarov, for I expected to find coconuts, bananas, paw-paw and breadfruit, in addition to unlimited fish and crayfish. I also knew that the coast-watchers had kept fowls though I could not be certain if there would be any left.

But obviously a diet consisting of only island produce was going to be monotonous, and since I had £49 I saw no reason for not laying out a substantial part of it on supplies that would at least tide me over until my garden was producing.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, for after all I had been cooking my own meals for half a lifetime and I went from store to store buying the different basic foods. By the time I had finished, my stock of purchases, piled up in my shack, was not unimpressive.

I decided quite deliberately to spend some of my money on gastronomic luxuries which I really did not need, for though I had proved many times that I could live on native or island food, I had noticed over the years how the sudden switch to such a spartan diet tended to make me a little depressed. Breadfruit and coconuts sound all very well in adventure stories, but nobody can deny they are monotonous. I felt I should ease my way into the new life ahead of me by starting out with some of the foods I enjoyed.

After all, I didn’t really know what lay in the future. I flattered myself I would never be lonely, but how could I tell? I remember having a beer one evening with a friend, and when I pooh-poohed his suggestion that I might be bored with my own company, he pointed out quite seriously, "I know you enjoy being on your own, Tom, but remember you’ve always had somebody around–if only to call them a damned nuisance! What’s going to happen if you’re alone–and lonely? Nobody to shout at–not even an enemy!

He was right, of course. How could I tell what I would feel in circumstances which I had only so far imagined? Well, at least I could get some good food to cheer me up if I felt too low. I went down to Donald’s the next morning and promptly bought a dozen one-pound tins of jam and a dozen tins of sweetened condensed milk!

I already had my flour and sugar, a forty-pound bag of coffee beans, and now I bought a forty-pound tin of Suva biscuits, also known as "cabin bread", which I had chewed for years on the inter-island boats where it was always produced when the flour gave out–as it regularly did. I bought it for the same reason–to use when my flour gave out, or went bad. These biscuits were about four inches square, about ten to the pound. I chose my sealed tin with great care, checking that no seams were broken or punctured, for tins often arrived from Suva in bad condition.

Though I hoped there would be fowls on the island, I felt I had to take some meat with me, so I bought two dozen tins of bully beef to eat on special occasions, together with ten pounds of beef dripping which I sealed up with sticking plaster in an old sweet tin. I became a regular cadger of old sweet tins–even though sometimes I had to pay a shilling each for them. I needed several more, including two in which I sealed up twenty-five pounds of rice. I also bought some old screw-top jars in which I packed five pounds of salt.

I was now getting near the end of my food list, though I had still not bought my tea. Making a cup of tea just before sundown at the end of a day’s work had been a ritual of mine for years, but I reluctantly decided to limit myself to two pounds. So often in the past I had kept tea too long until it went fusty. It would be a waste of money to take a larger stock, though the very day I took the tea back to my room I repacked it in small containers–any tins I could find, such as baking-powder tins with press-top lids, which I filled right up to the top so there would be virtually no air space, and then sealed each lid with a rim of sticking plaster.

For a similar reason, I only bought four one-pound tins of butter. However carefully it is packed, butter invariably goes rancid after a time.

Tobacco was a real luxury. I don’t smoke a great deal, but one cigarette has always seemed to go with that evening cup of tea I love so much. I bought half a pound of tobacco and a dozen packets of cigarette papers.

At first I was unable to decide whether or not to take a shotgun. I had heard rumours that the coast-watchers had left some pigs on the island, which would be quite wild by now, perhaps savage. And, too, I knew there were plenty of birds on Suvarov. But there were several reasons against taking a gun. I don’t like killing living things; nor could I really afford a gun. But perhaps the deciding factor was that I was afraid of becoming dependent on a weapon which would be valueless when the last cartridge had been fired. I felt I had to meet the challenge of Suvarov on terms which would not change with the years. For the same reason I refused to take a small battery-operated radio. I imagine that subconsciously I was afraid I would miss its company after the batteries had run down.

By now there was very little else I needed. I bought a few odds and ends–a tin of pepper, a couple of jars of curry powder (to flavour food when all else failed), a dozen large bars of laundry soap, a dozen cakes of toilet soap.

I packed all the food in wooden boxes or cartons I had been collecting–I am always collecting things–lining each box with newspapers or magazines, which I knew would come in useful for all sorts of things, including lining shelves, when I reached Suvarov.

During the last week, more farewell gifts arrived. I had never realised how many friends I had. One presented me with a twenty-five-pound tin of malted milk powder. Another gave me a twenty-five-foot bamboo fishing pole–it was rare in Rarotonga to find one quite so long–which I added to several saplings I had cut for making fishing spears, just in case I could not find any straight ones on the island.

Those stalwart friends of the P.W.D. lent me a pick and shovel; a storekeeper gave me a kerosene case which was made to hold two square four-gallon kerosene tins. The two empty tins were thrown in with the case. I cut the tops off each tin and then packed them both, and the odd spaces around them, with some of my smaller belongings. I knew that once I reached the island the tins would be invaluable for boiling clothes.

I even managed to swap a shirt for a crowbar which I considered a vital necessity. It was, in fact, the transmission shaft of an old model "T" Ford, which I took to a blacksmith who sharpened one end to a point and the other to a chisel edge.

My money–to say nothing of time–was running out, yet there were several tools I badly needed, despite the fact that I had accumulated quite an assortment over the years including chisels, a hacksaw and carpenters’ saws, an axe and tomahawk, a couple of machetes, a sheath knife, as well as pliers, an adjustable spanner, and things like a hammer, screwdriver and a rat-tail file.

All the same, I required a few more items, which I bought during the last week. I needed a couple of really good chisels for I expected to find empty fuel drums left by the watchers. I bought a pair of tin-snips in case the tin roof of the shack should need attention. And when I was in the hardware store, it suddenly seemed a wise precaution to buy two tins of paint to protect any new building I might have to erect. I needed some spare hacksaw blades and when I bought some eighteen-inch lengths of round iron, with the idea of making them into spears, I had to buy two extra files. I had made enough fish spears in the past to know that even the toughest file doesn’t last for ever. Then I bought a selection of nails, a hundred assorted fishing hooks and a spare hank of fishing line. Lastly I bought a small vice, which I would need if ever I had to heat and shape metal.

While accumulating all this gear, I was also busy buying seeds for the garden I knew I would have to make. I bought packets of tomatoes, cucumbers, rock melon (known in Europe as canteloupes), water melon, runner beans and Indian spinach, which trails along the ground with thicker, fleshier leaves than ordinary spinach.

I also purchased some shallots, a few tubers of sweet potatoes or yams–known in the Cooks as kumeras, an old Maori word–which I knew would quickly send up shoots which could be pulled out and planted. Finally, I bought two banana shoots in case the banana trees on the island had been torn down by a hurricane.

By now, my tiny shack was jammed to the ceiling with crates and parcels, and I had barely enough room to turn around when I made myself a cup of tea. Yet the shopping was not quite ended, for I still had to buy one or two things for my kai room. I had very nearly all I needed, for my belongings accumulated over the years included everything–crockery, cutlery, glasses, tin-openers (I never travelled without two) enamel and zinc bowls, a hurricane lantern and a glass table lamp, even a coffee-grinder as well as a coffee-pot, dishcloths and tea-towels and, above all, my old silver teapot which I had used since I left the Navy.

In addition, I had about a dozen square one-gallon screw-top glass jars which fitted into their original case. I had bought them about a year before with Suvarov in the back of my mind. They would be invaluable for storing the food I had bought in bulk; however, I did not plan to fill them before we reached the island in case they got broken on the voyage.

I bought several more articles for the kai room. Firstly, I decided to invest a precious £2 10s. on a six-pint cast-iron kettle, which would not deteriorate in the same way as aluminium when used over an open fire.

I also bought a big square of kitchen linoleum for the table. Throughout my "batching" days I had always insisted, even when alone, on eating off a table cloth, but for the island I thought washable linoleum would be simpler.

Otherwise, the rest of my kitchen purchases were fairly simple–plenty of spare wicks for the lantern and lamp, twelve dozen boxes of matches and four five-gallon tins of kerosene.

And now I gave some thought to the "home-front." I decided it was imperative to take a cat, for though I knew Suvarov had virtually no insects or mosquitoes, it did have a colony of small indigenous rats. With all my carefully sealed tins, it was unlikely they would eat me out of shack and home, but I just happen to hate rats. As I was already the possessor of an old cat with a kitten I decided to take them both with me, and so that they should travel in style I built a special box to house them for the six-day boat journey.

We were not old friends. As a matter of fact, I had only had the mother cat for a very short time, and she was a confirmed thief which seemed a good reason for calling her Mrs. Thievery. The son I named Mr. Tom-Tom.

Only one thing more was necessary to make me completely self-sufficient, and this was a dozen large, volcanic stones–beyond price, but without any financial value. I dug them out of a creek bed not far from where I lived and carried most of them back to my room–which was now beginning to look like a warehouse–one at a time on the saddle of my bicycle.

Each one of these large stones weighed between eight and twelve pounds. I knew stones like this just couldn’t be found on Suvarov and I needed these heat-resisting stones to make a native oven. Coral is no use, for it crumbles after being used only once or twice.

With the last of my money I now went in search of my greatest luxury–a few books. Two days before the sailing date, I spent a morning browsing among the paperbacks on sale along Main Road. I had a few books already by Defoe,Stevenson and other favourite authors. Frisbie’s Island of Desire was certainly amongst them, but when it came to spending my last few shillings on reading matter, my choice was dictated by the stocks I could inspect. I knew that the coast-watchers had left some books on the island, but I had no certainty that they would please my taste. I had to take a few of my own choice–not many, for I derive great pleasure from re-reading the same book (so long as I like it), but I was able to pick up three books by Somerset Maugham, two by Dickens (including Oliver Twist), Mutiny on the Bounty by Nordhoff and Hall (whom I had met on occasion), and several rather poor quality Westerns and Edgar Wallace thrillers which featured predominantly on the local bookshelves.

On the last night but one, when I was riding my bicycle to the friend who had promised to keep it for me, I stopped by a small general store and picked up a book which was to give me great pleasure in the months ahead. Indeed, I must have read it a score of times. It was a dog-eared, second-hand copy of Lord Jim.

With this treasure clutched under my arm, I cycled to the house where I was to "park" my bicycle. I was just about to set off on the walk home when, for some ridiculous reason, I took the pump off the crossbar.

"What on earth do you need that for?" My friend must have thought me crazy.

I couldn’t answer. I just felt that I must take everything–just in case it came in useful.

Somehow or other, everything was ready in time. In all, I had twenty-one packages, twelve stones, two cats and my bamboo pole and saplings–plus a bundle of long-handled tools and a broom.

The Mahurangi was due to sail for Palmerston Island on the evening of August 29. That same morning I gathered all my gear together and Dick Brown sent up his lorry to collect it–and me. Having arrived at the wharf, it took us some hours to stow away all this cargo, since I insisted on watching every single bundle as it was stacked away in the after-hold. Had one of these parcels vanished, it could have made all the difference to my life on Suvarov.

The moment had almost arrived. I was leaving Rarotonga perhaps for ever. It gave me a queer sensation and I remember thinking, "Neale, remember you owe the P.W.D. a pick and shovel." On that last day, Rarotonga–which I had disliked so much because of the work which chained me–suddenly seemed much more attractive than ever before, and the strip of dusty Main Road which separated the lagoon from the shops seemed alive with acquaintances stopping to shake my hand and wish me luck, and there is no doubt that there was an element of sadness behind my confidence.

These were very natural thoughts, but inside I was calm in the certainty that I was doing the right thing. Even more reassuring was a profound belief that I could make a go of it. I was equipped down to the last copper nail, so far as my budget would allow. I had forgotten nothing. All that remained was for me to say good-bye to the friends I had made in the frustrating years spent in and around Rarotonga.

This I did on the last afternoon, after I had watched the final cases being packed in to the Mahurangi.

And then, not four hours before sailing, everything went wrong. At a moment’s notice, the sailing plans were changed. Horrified, I learned that instead of calling at Palmerston the Mahurangi’s orders were to sail directly to Manihiki on a new route which would pass nowhere near Suvarov.

For a time I was unable to believe the news. I almost ran all the way down to the wharf to find Dick. Everything I owned in the world–excepting my bicycle–was on board. I had vacated my room; I had nowhere to sleep, nothing to sleep on, no clothes to wear, no food to eat and no money to buy food.

"You can’t do this!" My voice must have echoed my desperation.

"I’m awfully sorry, Tom–" Dick really did look sorry–"but the Palmerston Island trip is postponed until we return from Manihiki."

He was very kind, assuring me it wouldn’t be long before my chance would come again. But at that moment I could have cried, even though I knew this sort of thing was always happening on the inter-island trading boats. Life in the South Seas does not know the same tempo as big ports and cities; a few weeks’ delay rarely matters to the island folk brought up in a different tradition. Should they find themselves in my situation, as likely as not relatives or friends will put them up for a week or two, for life is not only easy but cheap.

Many a time in the past, when I was working on the schooners, our sailing directions had been changed at the last moment. But that had been different.

As I stood there on the wharf wondering dully what would happen now, one thought was uppermost–I was virtually penniless. What was I going to do during the period of waiting? It must have been with a sense of desperation that I dived my hand into the pocket of my khaki shorts, and brought out some small change.

"Look–" I showed it to Dick–"that’s all the money I have in the world."

And it was. The loose coins added up to five shillings and eightpence, for I had deliberately spent all my money before sailing as money would have no value on Suvarov. It struck me that what had happened now merely illustrated one of the reasons I wanted to get away.

After my first anger had subsided, I found I couldn’t honestly blame Dick. I just had to pull myself together and face up to the situation.

I turned to him again.

"It’s all I’ve got," I said. "Lend me ten pounds and I’ll pay you back when I come back from Suvarov–if I ever do."

Dick was the sort of man who always carried a fair amount of money in his pocket. Without demur, he handed me two five-pound notes.

I was able to off-load my belongings before the Mahurangi sailed . . . all except the stones and three big cases buried beneath other cargo. Fortunately, I had kept lists of the contents of each package. Dick’s lorry took eighteen of them back to the room after I had arranged to rent it again for a few weeks longer.

Before the Mahurangi sailed, I went to the skipper and every member of the crew, begging them to look after the three cases I could not off-load. And my stones! Oven stones were precious and those boys on Manihiki were bound to pinch them if they had half a chance.

But though my precious stones and cases returned safely, it took over another month before I finally did sail on October 1. We reached Suvarov on October 7, 1952.
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