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At 3:39 AM of November 28, 2018, Harry Leslie Smith died. He was 95.
He spent his twilight years in turning to writing and championing public services such as the NHS to see that the generations of his children and his grandchildren wouldn't live in the same squalid conditions that he had. Harry was born in 1923, so coming of age into the Great Depression, he has spoken at length of the horrors of pauper's pits and workhouses, horrors that would befall his own family. He started his first job at the age of 10, delivering coal. Harry referred to British life at this point a "barbarous time."
In 1941, Harry joined the RAF and spent a portion of his career in Hamburg as part of the Allied Occupation following the war. It was here he met the love of his life, Friede, and faced prejudice for marrying a "Jerry," not only from his fellow servicemen, but also from his own family, and he was even excommunicated by the Catholic church for doing so. It was at this point Harry had become disillusioned with a life in the military and wasn't so keen to look back on those days with a rosy tint as much as others.
Harry was honourably discharged, and at some point during the 50s, they emigrated to Canada where he made a career in buying and selling oriental rugs. It was here that Harry and Friede were able to start a family of their own and raised three boys. Life was good until tragedy would find Smith again in 1999 with the passing of his dear Friede, and then 10 years later, their second eldest son, Peter, would die as well. It was here, though, that Harry found sanctuary from his grief in writing and, despite a limited education in his formative years, discovered a talent for it, too.
Spurred on by the 2008 financial crisis, Harry sought to maintain socialised institutions like the NHS and welfare, but also vehemently opposed a crippling austerity that snatched potential prospects away from young people. He drew from his own experience to teach us of such pitfalls should things be allowed to continue.
In later years, Harry would hear more echoes of his past coming back in the form of the rise of far-rightwing politics and the various refugee crises around the world. Remarkably, well into his 90s, Harry chose to deal with the latter with a profound sense of compassion. He visited refugee camps across Europe to bring attention to the plight of thousands displaced by wars back home, and to see for himself the conditions they now found themselves in.
He wasn't one to bandy words with far-right supporters either. Nor should he have. He had dealt with the likes of them some 70 years ago, both at home and abroad, and had seen where their ideals had led. With regards to Stephen Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) he said:
“Let’s be clear, if you support #TommyRobinson you don’t respect me, my generation, Great Britain, yourself or anything decent. What you respect is hate and ignorance. And you as a human being are better than that and if you’re not—well then you’re just shit on the pavement.”
He was quick to shoot down those who questioned his stance on refugees, and I think that it was this no-nonsense approach that endeared him to 258,000 Twitter followers, to which he was also so prolific in his writings.
He courted controversy in 2013 when he wrote in an article that he would no longer wear a poppy on Remembrance Day because he believed its symbol had been co-opted by politicians to perpetuate conflicts across the world, some of which have contributed to the refugee crisis we are seeing now.
Harry simply wanted a better, more rewarding life for future generations than what he had. He wanted young people to have as many prospects as they aspired to have. Lives free of misery, war, and poverty. So then passes another great man. A man of a frail stature in his elderly years who nonetheless garnered a vast wealth of respect from many. Harry believed that the NHS had to be protected to ensure those on the very lowest rung of the ladder had access to a healthcare they deserved as citizens and to have the fundamental amount of human decency afforded to them. He believed that for no other reason than it was simply the right thing to do. Men of Harry Leslie Smith's calibre are few and far between. As the sun sets on his generation it is imperative, for the sake of our souls as a nation, as a people, that we hold the lessons they taught us dear, less we share a similar grim reality to their youths in an unconscionable future.
"I want to use my time and whatever influence I have from the book to get the young in Britain to vote the only way we can: To save our social democratic institutions. I want us to make our last stand at the ballot box."—Harry Leslie Smith (1923 to 2018)
I just want to thank you for taking the time to read my article and I would implore you to watch the video above. I was deeply saddened by the news this morning, but I am comforted by the fact that he was. The world may feel a little colder without people like Harry in it, but I assure you, it will pass. And when it does younger, stronger men will rise to fill that role, emboldened by Harry's optimism and wit.
Rest well, Mr. Smith.