Flt Sgt Copping's P-40 From The Egyptian Desert

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I REALLY don't want to enter the wider debate here as I know none of the facts, but on the point of the analysis of the bones, if this statement is indeed the case:

in relation to the recovered bones the Egyptian authorities claim they DNA tested them and wrote to the British Embassy to say these tests had proved 'negative' in that they were unable to obtain DNA to compare to Dennis's relatives due to the age of the remains, contamination and their exposure to the sun. However, in the same letter they went on to say that 'the DNA in all the bones come from the same person...'

This is indeed an odd statement given that it contains the 'contamination' caveat which would cause problems for any findings. If I recall correctly the communications from the laboratory appeared to have been reworded by an Egyptian Defence Official as the communication came from him? However, with a degraded sample it is THEORETICALLY possible that you could recover and analyse enough DNA to make a comparison between the samples provided that suitable markers in each could be identified i.e. fragments of DNA from each sample provided consistent overlap in sequences isolated. At the same time, suitable markers to cross match with DNA sequences that the relatives might share might not have been recovered amongst the fragments, so a match could not be made. With samples from the same person you have all of their DNA complement to potentially match (or find no inconsistencies), with relatives, you are looking at a much smaller fraction of the genome to match in the first place.

Anyhow, I have no idea who, if anyone, did the testing or what they may or may not have recovered nor what they tested for.

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Thanks to Tim, Mark and Pat for all the above comments, we now have a much clearer picture of the happenings of 2012.

My own beef has always been the complete public silence from RAFM

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We were in the desert for four days and three nights. The temperature was over 50 degrees C during the day. Sleeping in tents during the day was unbearable. We worked at night when the temperatures were in the balmy 30-35 degrees C. Every morning and evening, while there was still light, I personally walked around the Kittyhawk in all directions looking for any trace of anything, including the Sgt. I went as far as I could keeping the Kittyhawk in sight. My guess is that this was over a mile in some directions as the terrain was not level and the Kittyhawk could be seen from a good distance in some directions, not far in others. The terrain was difficult to say the least. I was not the only one of the team that did such.
Tim Manna
Kennet Aviation


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Thank you Dave. Please don't denigrate the RAFM. They are good and smart, probably overworked and underpaid. The Kittyhawk is way down on the list of priorities. Staying a first class organisation in today's world is their first, and they are working hard at it. As to the Kittyhawk specifically, firstly, they have no obligation to supply this forum with internal and confidential information, or any information at all. Where does it say that in the Museum's charger? As much as they might (and I don't speak for them) want to comment, I believe they have opted to limit comment, for, secondly, as I have said before, media exposure does nothing to help get the Kittyhawk back to the UK, unless it is good exposure. The Egyptians are not stupid (just as the RAFM is not stupid) and are sensitive to media commentary. IMHO (not always H), people must get off their horses and put the other riders' shoes on. It is very easy for armchair experts to pontificate on a Monday morning the weekend's events. It is much more difficult to live the weekend. Thanks for listening. Tim Manna, Kennet Aviation, off my horse.

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Sorry, Museum's Charter. TM

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Hi Tim

Thanks for the information you posted. I know much has been said about the background to this recovery (sorry I don't do politics well so will leave that to the rest of you), but at the end of the day she has been recovered thus has a chance to survive much longer than she may have done otherwise. Within time/area and security situation a search was undertaken for the pilot to at least discount close in areas, and that all involved in the recovery got home safely.

Maybe given time she may end up on UK shores with the RAFM or otherwise, but what ever happens she will always be a memorial to the pilot, be it as she was recovered, or in flight, I think all agree that this would be far fitting than ending up as a collection of parts as shown in Mark12's photos of the Spitfire, as seems to happen quite often (just look at the damage done within only a few months of being found). In the end the story isn't over yet, the fat lady is only warming up, so hopefully FSGT Copping can be located, and the final page turned in this saga.

Tim PM sent

Regards all


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Thanks Mark12 for posting Spitfire remains photos. Amazing that there's nothing left of the aluminium structure. Easier and lighter to carry off for scrap and more value I suppose.

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Maybe I should add a few comments about my involvement with a possible recovery of Flight Sgt Copping's remains.

I have been away for a couple of weeks without access to this thread, and come to it today some ten pages later!

I do not need to go through all the details of what we attempted to do soon after the discovery of the P-40 wreck (by the Italians or by the Poles has never been clear to me). Suffice it to say that I was able to organise DNA and histological testing of the bones by the forensic department of my university, an offer that we have never been able to take up, as the bones were not recovered by the Italians, but left "in situ", according to "qattara" himself. He did, as stated a couple of pages back, send me photographs of the bones confidentially, from which I am able to state categorically that they were human (I am an anatomist). I exchanged a lot a correspondence with the MoD, the Cairo Embassy, and their Defence Attachés, from which emerged the story of a second set of bones being discovered and tested in a Cairo forensic laboratory. Although I have contacts in Cairo university I was never able to get an answer from my forensic colleagues, but the story emerged that the bones were unsuitable for DNA extraction, which I doubt from my previous experience. One should not forget that DNA is not the only test that could be of use here: relatively simple histology and microscopic examination can give information about, for example, the age of a bone, to try to eliminate any bones from the wrong historical period (that are not uncommon in the desert, as I know from personal experience).The Italian team, via qattara, have also said that "the bones" disappeared from the site.
I have never understood how the Italian team found the bones. Having spent quite a bit of time in the deserts of the UAE and Oman I would agree that such a search (and such a find) are hard to imagine.
So, to my great regret we got no further with trying to find Dennis Copping, nor even examine the bones that might be his. His family had agreed to our examination of any remains, and it was sad to disappoint them. Indeed, our offer still stands, if ever we find the bones, which like the P-40, now seem lost again.

Indeed, Laurence.

I know only too well the amount of work and effort you put in to this on behalf of the family, who I know were immensely grateful.

(Sorry to have been out of touch for months, by the way. Pressures of work, I'm afraid!)

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Thanks Andy. I wish we could get back to this sad story.

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"It must be hard work going through life stamping out spot fires regarding ones reputation"

Only since the advent of the internet I'll wager.

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makes it much easier to light one under your own feet

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From Pat1968; "I, like many others on this forum and more importantly Dennis Coppings family have been unable to get to the bottom of the actions of the RAFM and their agents in this matter as they have avoided accounting for those actions at every juncture using spurious excuses."

I try to keep out of these things but every once in a while there comes a time when I feel it necessary to "jump" in. I find it incredible that people with little of no knowledge of the actual undertakings can be so willing to voice opinions that are not facts.

I find it hard to believe that you could enter into a commercial agreement with a publicly funded body such as the RAFM and not expect your actions to be scrutinised, especially when from the RAFM perspective this recovery project has been an abject failure. They have lost an asset with an apparent monetary values of circa £120K and in an historic sense an airframe that it is pretty rare. For that they have generated a huge amount of negative PR and fuelled the controversy by attempting to cover up what has taken place. Other than that they have received nothing.

To set the record straight; Paul Collins, Capt, RN, Defence Attache in Cairo at the time, and without whose help nothing would have ever happened to the Kittyhawk in any reasonable amount of time, if at all, and I met with the family at the Royal Geographic Society for over three hours. During that time we gave a full accounting of all of our actions, the mission, the ins, the outs, the politics, etc. Even the monies involved. We showed them all of 1,800 plus pictures. We assured them that this was not in any way a money making enterprise in any way on our part (I now can assume National Geographic is purely charitable).

The only thing that has 'happened' to the kittyhawk so far is that it has been dismantled loaded into a shipping container and transported a few hundred miles within Egypt all at the publics expense, with nothing to show for it. Not really a cause for back slapping in my opinion. In short other than from Kennet Aviations' perspective the recovery operation has been a failure. This is without considering the appalling handling of the case of the lost pilot and his family.
I am not sure how you can say that this is not money making exercise? You entered into a commercial agreement and received a Spitfire? I have no doubt that you performed your part of the agreement that was forged between Kennet Aviation and the RAFM and I have absolutely no issue with your acceptance of those terms, but to characterise this agreement as if it was purely altruistic is a stretch at best!
I think National Geographic are about as charitable as Kennet Aviation! I am not sure what your point is here? Of course a documentary would be expected to generate capital I don’t believe that anyone has suggested otherwise, that is precisely the point!

We emphasised that our only desire was for the Kittyhawk to be returned to the RAFM and displayed as closely as possible to its situation as found. We emphasised that in our belief it would be a fitting memorial to those who gave their lives in the Desert Campaign, and the Sgt's role in that would be highlighted. Again, our desire and belief was and is that it would be worth the efforts of all involved.

I notice that you have managed to demote Flight Sergeant Copping to the rank of sergeant, sadly a metaphor for the consideration shown to him and his family!

A very detailed summary of the MoD's activities with regard to the Italians and the Egyptians was presented to them. That is not my pew in the church to talk accurately about other than to say they fully accepted the "realities" of the situation.

Frankly the fact that people have shown you and Capt Collins common courtesy and respect as individuals does not in any way equate to their fully accepting the MODs' account of their actions. The theories and explanations offered have been described as nonsense, their words not mine! I am led to believe that Capt Collins is of the opinion that the bones recovered were not human but were animal bones and have apparently been tested by one of the worlds’ most eminent scientists. Despite the fact, as has been discussed here at length, the information received and released by the MOD wouldn't stand up to even the most basic scrutiny and is completely contradictory. No explanation has ever been received for this and as John puts it ‘unless Dennis was in the cockpit with a name tag on his head the MOD isn’t interested’. I will say again for the record the bones photographed by the Italian team are human, this has been confirmed independently. What has not been confirmed is where those bones are now and why the laboratory where they were apparently tested cannot be identified. This is the question that the family would dearly like an answer to. If you characterise 'realities' as a lack of care and competence then you may well be correct!

We entered the meeting as devils incarnate, probably due to the impressions and implications of others. We left as friends, with both the nephew and his wife thanking us for our time and efforts, not just in the desert, but in trying to keep Dennis's memory alive. They offered to help in any way they could. They offered to go to Egypt with us. We, as we have from the beginning, said that our goal was to get the Kittyhawk back to the UK and media attention, in our opinion was not helpful. They reiterated that they were available if we needed their help. We thanked them for this and promised to keep them in touch as progress was made, and to certainly be part of any repatriation.

Whilst it would be wrong of me to tell you that they were not grateful to finally hear an account of the recovery, it is their considered opinion that this was a PR exercise with the purpose of carrying out damage limitation some three years after the failed recovery attempt and some two and a half years after you personally gave a public speech in the USA on the subject. Once again the fact that someone is too polite to ask you why neither you, the RAFM or the MOD have not given a full account of what has taken place in the intervening three years does not in any way mean that this issue is resolved. Their belief is that the bones found and photographed by the Italians are highly likely to be those of Dennis and are still awaiting answers as to where these bones are and what testing has actually been carried out. It would be true to say that they are extremely angry about how the recovery was handled and the fact that Dennis has been a secondary consideration throughout.

We were in the desert for four days and three nights. The temperature was over 50 degrees C during the day. Sleeping in tents during the day was unbearable. We worked at night when the temperatures were in the balmy 30-35 degrees C.

I don't mean to be flippant but so what? What did you expect summer in the White Desert to be like? Much has been made of the fact that the costs of the recovery effort, which are apparently in excess of £120K, were incurred due to the professionalism required from the recovery team. I, along with thousands of other people have spent months in the desert working, temperatures ranged from -15 degrees C to 50 plus at one point it snowed! Sometimes I was even lucky enough to sleep in a tent! Despite what Mark12 would like the uninitiated to believe you can function in these temperatures. Granted you need to know what you are doing and have some basic understanding of your physiology, it also helps if you are in reasonably good shape, but you don't need to be Bear Grills either! Is it miserable? Certainly, but this has been used again and again as a mitigation for not carrying out a comprehensive search and frankly it is an excuse.

You have commented about the fact that we are all unaware of the 'realities' of the situation and questioned forum members like Elliott and myself as to how we can possibly know what was involved in the recovery. Whilst to a degree this is true as no account has been offered as to where the money was spent. What is stopping you from explaining where £120k was spent when your responsibilities were apparently to dismantle, pack and transport the aircraft to El Alamein from the crash site? What is contentious or confidential about that? With all due respect what qualified Kennet Aviation to carry out the recovery? Do you have experience of the dessert or previous aircraft recoveries? It strikes me that the main difference between us amateurs and the professionals, in this case certainly, is that we have collectively had some success in this regard whereas this recovery has been a failure. I fail to understand why you are unable to understand the scepticism of people like Elliott, myself and others in this regard. As I have previously stated the recovery that I carried out in Afghanistan has a number of parallels with this recovery including difficult terrain, politics, hire of vehicles, lifting equipment and temperatures in excess of 45 degrees C. To further complicate matters it was in the middle of a very active civil war! As Elliott has said in his case and mine at a fraction of the figure quoted above. From a logistics perspective the distances involved were actually almost twice as far in my case! So if we don’t get it fine, tell us what we are missing?

Every morning and evening, while there was still light, I personally walked around the Kittyhawk in all directions looking for any trace of anything, including the Sgt. I went as far as I could keeping the Kittyhawk in sight. My guess is that this was over a mile in some directions as the terrain was not level and the Kittyhawk could be seen from a good distance in some directions, not far in others. The terrain was difficult to say the least. I was not the only one of the team that did such. We are not all heartless ba*tards.

Walking around the crash site without documenting the search is not likely to add much value and Dennis was always unlikely to be close by. I also accept that even a wider search may have uncovered nothing as well. But that in itself does not excuse the fact that Dennis Copping has been treated as an afterthought and not the priority of either the RAFM or the MOD. The site could and should have been surveyed and documented in detail so that any clues could be made available to other searchers or people operating in the area. The fact that oil workers broke the story in the first instance is an indication of the kind of activity that could lead to the discovery of his remains if awareness is raised. Do I personally believe that you or your team for that matter are completely unsympathetic to his personal plight or that of his family since? No I don't, but I also don't believe he has ever been a priority either. Just to be clear my criticism of you personally begins and ends with the fact that you gave a public speech about the recovery of the aircraft before that information was made available to Dennis Coppings’ family, which should never have been allowed to happen. With regards to the costs whilst I am still incredulous at the apparent cost of the recover at over £120K I don't blame you for entering the deal that you were offered. Personally I wish the very best of luck restoring the Spitfire and I look forward to seeing flying in the future. I do however question why the RAFM thought that this was a good deal in the first place.

Comparing the Kittyhawk recovery to any other recovery may be like comparing apples to apples, or apples to crabapples, or apples to oranges. One will never know. My guess is that it is never apples to apples. No two projects are the same. What was a going on at the time in Egypt was unique (once in a hundred years? Thousand?)

Anyone who thinks this project could have been done for less than £120k knows nothing of the realities of the situation. National Geographic may have said they would fund it, but I doubt whether they saw the "quote". Maybe when they saw the "quote" they might have jumped on it. Maybe not. We will never know.

As I have said above there are a number of parallels with the recovery that I carried out in Afghanistan. Why can you not share with us the unique nature of this recovery that made it so much more expensive?

Now, against my better judgement, to put the cat among the pigeons, Kennet Aviation was not the first choice to recover the Kittyhawk. A/the "free" option was certainly number one on the table. Does anyone think the RAFM's executives are that stupid? Clearly some here do, which in my mind is unfair and unreal. The "reality" of it all was that I sat with the DG of the RAFM for over two weeks, while working on another project, waiting for something hard and unrefutable to come through from the free camp. Oh, by the way, there was more than one "free" option. It is amazing how people can be "out of town" so often.

The RAFM was under pressure from those on the ground in Egypt to make a move. The decision was to give the parties one more week to come through with the goods, which were not forthcoming on the Monday deadline. Therefore Kennet Aviation volunteered to and was asked to step in.

Frankly all of this is news to me! The then DG of the RAFM was very dismissive of our approach and sighted a number of issues that he felt made this option undesirable. For example the notion that it would take time to put the team together and that the recovery would take more time. He stated categorically that 'we wasn't interested in the pilot.' even he must have realised how bad this sounded because he qualified this by then saying that 'of course we are interested in the pilot in the sense that he was in the RAF but the pilot is an issue for the compassionate centre" (i.e. JCCC at the MOD). Incidentally whilst some people may have been out of town, I despite having made an appointment to speak with the then DG early one morning by telephone, had to make ten phone calls on that day alone to speak with him. This was some six and a half hours after our appointment! I assured him that we could make this happen in a very short time frame and that much of the preparation was already in place. I also told him that apart from the caveat that a full forensic search of the crash site would need to be made we would work with whoever they deemed worthy to be involved in the project as required. Despite stating that he would ‘work with me ’regarding developments he was 'unavailable' after that point permanently. I could go into more detail but to draw on your point about whether or not the ‘RAFM executives are stupid’ frankly the fact that he is no longer in post tells its own story! I do not believe for a second that our offer was ever really considered properly and whilst I am quite willing to believe that other offers may have been made I am afraid I don't believe that these options were realistically considered either.

Regardless of who went into the desert in July of 2012, my guess is the outcome would be the same. The DA was busy with riots, etc, not Kittyhawks. No one would have made it there before that. My guess is that a professional media organisation would need far more time. Our team was light and nimble and not burdened by camera crews, production people, etc.

The first part of your statement may well be true but had the offer been accepted the site would certainly have been fully investigated and documented for future reference which at the very least would have brought Flight Sergeant Coppings' story to a much wider audience. I don't agree with your 'guess' that a media organisation would need more time. The key requirement initially was either getting to the crash site or securing it in the interim. Both these options could have been explored to prevent further damage. Production teams are well versed in operating in extreme climates as anyone who has ever watched a TV documentary will be able to clarify! The team that was assembled covered every specialisation that could conceivably been required from archaeologists, to forensics specialists and engineers. The simple fact is the RAFM and the MOD were not interested.

The political climate and personnel changed dramatically, between June and October, and all previously negotiated agreements fell off the table. Despite great efforts by many heavyweight people, we are where we are. If anyone thinks that anything that has been said on this Forum re the Kittyhawk has been helpful, I suggest he or she thinks again.

The statement that comments made on this forum and in the media somehow scuppered the whole deal has been made a number of times and frankly it is very easy to say and impossible to prove. Personally I find it a stretch to suggest that posts on this forum or in the media were being monitored by the Egyptian government and that this in some way was influencing their thinking in terms of decision making regarding the recovery of the Kittyhawk or its final destination. Egypt is a country where human remains and artefacts are uncovered all the time much of which is documented in various forms in the media. Egypt is heavily dependent on tourism mostly from Northern Europe. What in the comments that have been made would have caused the Egyptian government to change their mind about donating the aircraft to the RAFM or UK government?
Don’t forget that the first media item broadcast in the UK was an interview with the then DG of the RAFM on the news at ten where he stated that the aircraft was theirs! Maybe that level of arrogance had an effect on Egyptian thinking! This thread was also suspended in deference to the notion that this was sabotaging the negotiations. Whilst you were in the dessert the Egyptian tourist minster made a statement to the Egyptian press stating that the aircraft was being recovered by an expert team and that it would be exhibited at the El Alamein Museum. He also stated that this was exactly what the Egyptian tourist industry needed!

I hope that all this bickering might stop, and all this energy put into supporting the Museum and the family. No now has a monopoly on hindsight. And there seems to be too many personal axes to grind. I apologise if this is seen as an axe. I am sure there will be many arrows.

I agree that hindsight is always wonderful commodity and you may well be correct when you say that nothing would have changed the outcome. I have made my personal axe grinding issues quite clear, if you genuinely want the bickering to cease as you see it release the information that was obtained at the crash site and give a full account of your activity and the costs. Ultimately this was public money and I would argue that it should be fully accounted for. You made an offer to meet previously which was followed by a frankly petulant rant about another forumite, at which point I frankly lost any desire to meet you. Our collective interest is to try and ascertain what happened to Dennis Copping out of respect for him, his family and all of his colleagues who didn’t make it home. I see no reason why you cannot contribute to that aim if you so desire. You clearly have a great deal of information of the crash site why can that not be shared to further these efforts?
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If I am correct it will be another long lost pilot accounted for, as Copping.


I am not sure how you can consider Dennis Copping accounted for he is still lost?

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This is not going to make me popular but please give it a moments thought before bellowing in outrage.
What is so important about bones? Copping has no further use for them, they have no historical or rarity value. Thousands of men must be buried in the desert and bones could easily be those of an Italian soldier or an unfortunate local. The aircraft is treated as a priority because it is the priority. If it had never been discovered there would have been no thought of looking for the poor chaps remains and his name would have not been on so many lips. If there is an issue of Christian sensibilities then let his church put their money where there mouth is and go find him. Just like the sunken dead under a wreath tossed from a stationary warship Dennis Copping has vanished from human sight. Just like thousands of his comrades and adversaries the desert swallowed him all those years ago. He's in more fitting company there than in some churchyard.

Having given it a moments thought as you requested, and without bellowing in outrage, it is perhaps a question more appropriately put to Flt Sgt Copping's family.

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I have a relative on the L24 and another on HMS Barham. Is it up to me whether a recovery operation is mounted?

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I think the point is that the MoD don't routinely search out the remains of the lost. Whether that is right or wrong from a purely moral perspective, doing so for F/S Copping would set a precedent.

Tim Manna has stated that a search was made of the immediate area. Can we realistically expect more from a contractor engaged to recover the aeroplane?

I would also note that Tim can only speak for himself - not for the MoD and not for the RAFM - engaging him on their behalf is unfair, and unlikely to get us any further.


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Having given it a moments thought as you requested, and without bellowing in outrage, it is perhaps a question more appropriately put to Flt Sgt Copping's family.

Why, though?

I've expressed similar thoughts to snibble's on here before, and been on the receiving end of the outrage as a result. It's nice to know that one isn't alone in genuinely failing to understand why some people seem to get into such a lather about this particular case.

Of course his remains are important to Sgt Copping's family. Of course we - society as a whole - should do what we can to ensure the family are re-united with his remains so that they can do what they will with them. But everything has it's price, and 'what we can do' may not, practically speaking, be very much. If that's uncomfortable for some of us to admit, it is no less true. I do not see any reason why the unfortunate Sgt Copping merits a whole other level of treatment, especially this long after his demise, compared to that offered for other servicemen lost in the desert, or elsewhere for that matter.

What I don't understand is why the question of some bones in the desert is considered more important than the recovery of an aircraft. Please note, I don't say it's a less important question. To my mind the two are separate issues, and the the idea (expressed by some) that nothing should be done with or about a priceless artifact until the provenance of some bones can be proved is frankly laughable. You would link them simply because this particular P-40 was implicated in a death (or saved a life by helping him survive a forced landing)? Sgt Copping's involvement with the aircraft was brief, and he certainly has had nothing to do with it in the last 70 years. As I and others have said in the past, I think the aircraft should be displayed to tell his story as a metaphor for that of so many others lost in similar circumstances - the futility of war, if you like. A way of reminding people that the 'hero' doesn't alway walk smiling out of certain death as the unfeasibly big explosion unfolds in slow motion behind them. Even with that in mind, I still don't see why is his fate still inextricably linked with, and somehow holding a trump card over, the fate of the aircraft? How many other military aircraft currently in museums, or flying, are somehow associated with a death or two? I don't know, but I'd be astonished if the answer was 'none'. Again, why is this case different?

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The poor deceased Copping will have more rest where he lays than any "salvation" will ever bring.