(Image courtesy of Sarah Lee for the Guardian.)
I don’t usually regret having handed over all social media activity to Cressida and Kathy but reading the Guardian’s obituary this week of Harry Leslie Smith aged 95 I sort of wish that I had remained logged in just to read his contributions.
Harry was truly amazing man – born in the utmost poverty in a coal mining family in Barnsley he survived the rigours of his childhood (which killed his older sister Marion) to join the RAF and fight through the war, marry a German wife who he met in occupied Hamburg and, with her, emigrate to Canada to escape the prejudice they faced on their return to England. But it was after his wife died in 1999 that he found his true metier, self publishing four books of memoirs. Then, in 2014, he electrified the Labour Party conference with his impassioned defence of the NHS and the Welfare State both of whose births he had witnessed in 1948. Both had truly opened up a new and sunlit world to the poor and disadvantaged – a world which Harry feared he was now watching disintegrate before his eyes. Watch the two short videos here on the Harry’s Last Stand website.
Harry became an overnight sensation and took to social media, sending, over the last four years, over 80,000 tweets and gathering a quarter of million followers! His tweets covered a range of topics – fighting austerity and privatisation, opposing western military interventions, and challenging racism and fascism. As Owen Jones said in the Guardian obit., ‘He was increasingly preoccupied with rising xenophobia, as demonstrated by the increasing popularity of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, and saw disturbing parallels with the rise of interwar fascism.’
However, do not read what I have to say about him – the man himself was far more interesting.
This article from 2014 describes his childhood and the tragic death of his older sister in the workhouse as the family (long before ether NHS arrived) could not afford medication or hospital treatment for her. A year earlier he was putting a different slant on the WWI commemorations:
‘My uncle and many of my relatives died in that war and they weren’t officers or NCOs; they were simple Tommies. They were like the hundreds of thousands of other boys who were sent to their slaughter by a government that didn’t care to represent their citizens if they were working poor and under-educated. My family members took the king’s shilling because they had little choice, whereas many others from similar economic backgrounds were strong-armed into enlisting by war propaganda or press-ganged into military service by their employers.’
And if you are now hooked – go here on the Guardian website for all of the articles that he has penned for the paper since that fateful Labour party conference speech. We can only be sad that his voice is now stilled.