Harry Leslie Smith

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Harry Leslie Smith
Born (1923-02-25) 25 February 1923 (age 95)
Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, UK
Occupation Author, social activist, columnist, carpet salesman (retired), RAF serviceman (formerly)
Citizenship British[1][2][3][4]
Notable works Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save it
Military career
Allegiance  UK
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1941–1948[5]

Harry Leslie Smith (born 25 February 1923)[6] is a British writer and political commentator.[1][2][3][4] He grew up in poverty in Yorkshire, and served in the RAF during the Second World War, later moving to Canada. After retiring, Smith began writing his memoirs and about the social history of Great Britain, during his youth and in the 21st century. He has written five books about Britain during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and postwar austerity.[7] He writes columns for The Guardian newspaper, New Statesman, The Daily Mirror, International Business Times and the Morning Star, and has made a number of public appearances in the UK (including at the 2014 Labour Party conference in Manchester and during the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU membership referendum) and Canada (in his 2015 Stand up For Progress National Tour).


Harry Leslie Smith was born on 25 February 1923, in Barnsley, Yorkshire,[8] the son of an unemployed coal miner. His elder sister Marion died of tuberculosis, as there was then no cure for the disease.[9] After his father became unemployed, the family moved to Bradford, then to Halifax. Smith joined the RAF in 1941 and spent several years in Hamburg, Germany as part of the allied occupation force. Whilst serving there, he met his future wife, Friede. The couple returned to the UK after he was demobilised and he worked at various jobs around the Yorkshire area.[10]

In the 1950s, they emigrated to Canada, living in Scarborough in Toronto and later in Belleville, Ontario,[11] and had three sons.[12] Smith made a career in the oriental carpet trade, specialising in designing and importing new designs from the Middle East, the former Soviet Bloc and Afghanistan.[13] His wife Friede died in 1999, and he started to write following this.[11] Since his retirement, Smith has been a writer of memoirs and social history. He now divides his time between Ontario and Yorkshire.[11]

Writing and speaking activities

Smith writes regularly for The Guardian commenting on politics and twentieth century history.[7] He attracted attention in November 2013, writing that he would not wear the Remembrance poppy in future years because he felt the symbol was being used to promote support for present-day conflicts.[14][15] He addressed the September 2014 Labour Party conference, speaking in support of the National Health Service, where he made a touching speech to the audience about how common preventable diseases "snuffed out life like a warm candle flame" prior the creation of the NHS.[16][17] and has spoken on BBC Radio[18] and at the Bristol Politics Festival.[19]

Smith runs a Twitter feed commenting on a wide range of current affairs.[20] He has said that it was the global financial crisis of 2008 that inspired him to take his "last stand",[10] writing and campaigning on income inequality, public services and what he sees as the diminishing prospects for young people.[11] "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".[10]

In July 2015, Smith endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. He tweeted: "I back #JeremyCorbyn b/c I want my grandchildren's generation to have a fighting chance for a decent and meaningful life free of austerity".[21]

In October 2015, Smith appeared on the BBC Three documentary We Want Our Country Back, where he sharply criticised the far-right anti-immigration political movement "Britain First".[22]

In 2016, he also endorsed Corbyn's re-election campaign at the Labour Party leadership election.[23] In March 2016, he said of Corbyn: "He is a very honest-minded man. He has the desire to change things in Britain. Corbyn will change the world for the better. There is no one else". He added: "He'll learn he has to put some more weight behind it. I am behind him and will work with him".[24]

In September 2017, Smith released his fifth book Don't Let My Past Be Your Future. It was published by Little Brown.[25]

In November 2017, Smith appeared on the Sky One comedy The Russell Howard Hour, where he briefly recalled his trip to the Calais Jungle, discussed his new book and the increasing dependence on food banks in the UK. Smith and Howard also discussed the NHS, with Smith reflecting on the accessibility of medical care with a family story.[26]


His first three books, Love among the ruins (2009) (was Hamburg 1947: A Place for the Heart to Kip),[bibliography 1] 1923: A Memoir (2010)[bibliography 2]—these two works were also published together as The Barley Hole Chronicles[bibliography 3]—and The Empress of Australia: A Post-War Memoir (2013),[bibliography 4] were self-published autobiographical works. His fourth book, Harry's Last Stand (2014), was published by Icon Books.[bibliography 5] Reviewers described this last book as "heart-breaking"[10] and "a furious poem dedicated to the preservation of the welfare state",[9] and wrote that "the book ... meanders between biography and rage against the system. The biography parts are the most compelling...".[9] and "Smith is a fine writer and a logical thinker, even though Harry's Last Stand makes its points early and often and is a bit of a rant at times".[27] It has sold over 18,000 copies.[11]


  1. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (December 2009). Love among the ruins. Barley Hole (ebook format by Kobo). ISBN 9780987842558. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  2. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (August 2010). 1923: A Memoir. iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 9781450254137. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  3. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (December 2009). The Barley Hole Chronicles: From Hell to Hamburg. Barley Hole (ebook format by Kobo). ISBN 9780987842534. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  4. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (March 2013). The Empress of Australia: A Post-War Memoir. Barley Hole (ebook format by Kobo). ISBN 9780987842589. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  5. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (June 2014). Harry's Last Stand. ICON Books. ISBN 9781848317260. Retrieved 2 January 2015.


  1. ^ a b Smith, Alivia (13 March 2015). "Harry Leslie Smith who is a British writer and political commentator speaks to the students in Manchester". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Harry Leslie Smith – 'Don't let the mean streets of my past be our future'". Radio NZ. 25 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Writers". New Statesman. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Harry Leslie Smith – Don't Let My Past Be Your Future – Little, Brown Book Group". littlebrown.co.uk. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  5. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (31 October 2014). ""Hunger, filth, fear and death": remembering life before the NHS". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  6. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (24 February 2017). "Don't dread old age. I'm 94, and I won't spend my last years in fear of the Tories". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Harry Leslie Smith: profile". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  8. ^ name=dob>Harry Leslie Smith (25 February 2015). "Tweet". @Harryslaststand (confirmed). Twitter. Retrieved 25 February 2015. On Feb 25,1923, I was born in a gas lit hard scrabble Barnsley where life was tough & short 92 years later I'm on #Twitter Tempus fugit....
  9. ^ a b c Reguly, Eric (5 December 2014). "Veteran RAF warrior takes up old fight to save U.K. health care". The Globe and Mail, Toronto. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d Bermingham, Finbarr (1 August 2014). "Harry Leslie Smith Interview: Meet the Man Who Lived Through WWII, the Great Depression and the 2008 Financial Crisis". International Business Times. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d e Clarke, Katrina (26 September 2014). "Belleville man, 91, shares activist message on book tour". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  12. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (August 2010). 1923: A Memoir (Acknowledgements). iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 9781450254137. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  13. ^ Keyes, Stephanie. "Spring Author Series: Harry Leslie Smith". Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  14. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (8 November 2013). "This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  15. ^ Bond, Louise (23 January 2014). "Hate on War, But Don't Hate on Poppies". The Blog. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  16. ^ Wynne Jones, Ros (24 September 2014). "91-year-old NHS campaigner's storming Labour Conference speech earns TWO standing ovations". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Harry Leslie Smith: The NHS is turning into a two-tier health care system". Channel 5 Broadcasting Ltd. Channel 5 News. 5 December 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  18. ^ "Labour's Harry Leslie Smith: I didn't have a childhood". BBC News. 7 October 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  19. ^ "Politics Festival 2014: Harry Leslie Smith". Bristol Festival of Ideas. Archived from the original on 2 January 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  20. ^ Stewart, Stephen (23 August 2014). "World War II veteran, 91, becomes online hit with Twitter fight for social justice". Daily Record. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  21. ^ Smith, Harry Leslie (26 July 2015). "I back #JeremyCorbyn b/c I want my grandchildren's generation to have a fighting chance for a decent and meaningful life free of austerity". Twitter. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  22. ^ Editor, Chris York Senior; UK, The Huffington Post (18 September 2015). "WWII RAF Veteran Epically Shoots Down 'Racist' Moaning About Refugees".
  23. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (23 August 2016). "Bernie Sanders 'backs Jeremy Corbyn' in Labour leadership race". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  24. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (6 March 2016). "Harry Leslie Smith: Second World War veteran says politicians should get to grips with UK poverty". The Independent. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  25. ^ Harry Leslie Smith (14 September 2017). Don't Let My Past Be Your Future. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4721-2346-6.
  26. ^ "Harry Leslie Smith on the importance of the NHS". YouTube. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  27. ^ LS (2 August 2014). "Harry's Last Stand: Harry Leslie Smith". The Saturday Paper – books. Retrieved 2 January 2015.

External links

  • Official website
  • Harry Leslie Smith on Twitter
  • Articles in The Guardian
  • Articles in the New Statesman
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