News, Politics

The ‘World’s Oldest Rebel’, Harry Leslie Smith, has died aged 95

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By Shawna Healey 

Harry Leslie Smith, the self-styled ‘World’s Oldest Rebel’, has died aged 95. Harry passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning of suspected pneumonia in Toronto, Canada, with his devoted son John, 59, by his side.

John heartbreakingly tweeted: “I am back home to our home and I alone. It is 4:36 in the morning and I am wrapped in the blanket that covered him as he lay dying. And, I know exactly what my steps are. I will follow in his footsteps. I will endeavour to finish his projects.”

Harry, a Barnsley native, was the son of a working-class coal miner. He witnessed his older sister Marion die of TB, which affected him for life – he often spoke about her and her tragic passing in his writings and talks.

At the age of seven he became the main earner in his family, working as a barrel boy in a beer factory. During the Second World War he enlisted in the RAF where he worked as a pilot. Then, in 1953, he emigrated to Canada, where he and his loving wife Friede raised a family of three boys.

After the death of his middle son, Peter, in 2009, Harry started writing. Since then he has written several bestselling books, such as Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down and What We Can Do to Save it and Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms. Harry also wrote for notable news outlets such as The Guardian, The Independent and the New Statesman.

In 2013, Harry gained notoriety when he wrote a piece for The Guardian called “This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time”, where he argued that the poppy is being used as a symbol to promote support for present-day conflicts.

Harry was also an outspoken activist, with over a quarter of a million followers on his Twitter account, which John took over to update his followers on his condition and subsequent passing.

There has been an outpouring of condolences for Harry and support for John on Twitter, including from the likes of Jeremy Corybn, leader of the Labour Party; Owen Jones, socialist and author of the The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It and Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, Paris Lees, self-described “Council estate royalty” and outspoken trans activist; and Dr. Jack Monroe, award-winning food and politics writer.

Harry Leslie Smith will be duly missed, but his memory and message of justice and compassion will live on. He has inspired many people to reject policies which harm the working class, immigrants and other oppressed populations and to fight for a better and fairer world for all, and for that, all we can say is thank you.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 21, and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism.

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