Unite has paid tribute to legendary anti-austerity activist, Second World War veteran and the “world’s oldest rebel” Harry Leslie Smith, who died yesterday (November 28) aged 95.
A statement from Unite described Smith as a “remarkable man” and said the union was “privileged to have worked with Harry and to learn from him”.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said Smith was a “champion for social justice”, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “one of the giants whose shoulders we stand on”.
Smith – who was born to a coal mining family in Barnsley, Yorkshire and lived in poverty through the Great Depression before serving in the RAF during the Second World War – died in hospital during a visit to see his son, John, in Ontario, Canada.
In his later life, Smith lived between the UK and Canada, took up writing and became a prominent activist for the poor and an advocate for social democracy.
The self-described “world’s oldest rebel” published a number of books about the Great Depression, the Second World War and austerity in the post-war years, including Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, Love Among the Ruins and Harry’s Last Stand.
Smith was also an avid and witty user of Twitter, where his account has 250,000 followers, and was known for his passionate defence of the NHS.
I stand with Harry
Smith’s son, John, used the account to announce his death yesterday morning, saying, “At 3.39 this morning, my dad Harry Leslie Smith died. I am an orphan. #istandwithharry.”
During his last years, Smith used his fame to highlight the plight of refugees; travelling to camps across Europe and making a film to “document this preventable tragedy”.
Smith began to write after the death of his wife, Friede, whom he met while serving in Germany at the end of war and emigrated to Canada with in the 1950s.
Smith garnered widespread public attention in 2013 when he declared he would not wear a Remembrance Day poppy because he felt the symbol had been subverted to support on-going wars.
Sharing a clip of Smith talking about the vital importance of the NHS, Jeremy Corbyn said, “We will all miss Harry Leslie Smith – he was one of the giants whose shoulders we stand on.
“A world war two veteran who dedicated his life to fighting for our National Health Service, a peaceful world and for countries to meet their moral responsibility by welcoming refugees.”
Len McCluskey also paid tribute to Smith, saying, “We lost a champion for social justice and a better world today, but his inspiration lives on.
“We at Unite the union will try to honour his memory in the best way possible by following his lead. Truly an inspirational, remarkable man.”