Harry Leslie Smith, fondly dubbed “the World’s oldest rebel” by those who knew him, passed away this morning after a short battle with pneumonia.
The former World War Two pilot grew up in poverty and became a renowned activist following an impassioned speech about his life and the NHS at the Labour Party conference in 2014.
He has made frequent warnings about the western world falling back into the dark days of the 1930s when nationalism was on the rise and hardship gripped many working class families.
On his GoFundMe page, which he set up to raise funds to visit as many refugee hot spots as possible in Europe, North America and Australia, he wrote:
“For close to one hundred years, I have witnessed humanity at its best and worst. And right now in this present age, mankind is in one of its most difficult stages. I am one of the last few remaining voices left from a generation of men and women who built a better society for our children and grandchildren out of the horrors of the Second World War as well as the hunger of the Great Depression. Sadly, that world my generation helped build on a foundation of decency and fair play is being swept away by neo liberalism and the greed of the 1% which has brought discord around the globe.”
Harry was taken to hospital last week for treatment, with his son John tweeting updates on his father’s condition, prompting many messages of support posted from people using the #istandwithharry hashtag.
After his father died, John tweeted: “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.”
Tributes have been paid on social media with Jeremy Corbyn saying he was “one of the giants whose shoulders we stand on”.
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. pic.twitter.com/1RW63dSa6Y
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 28, 2018
The Daily Mirror’s Associate Editor Kevin Maguire said “a moral light’s gone out in the world” following his passing, and Seamus O’Regan described him as an “extraordinary man”.
Shortly after Harry first fell ill his son John told him about the concern rippling across Twitter for him.
He said, “tell them, I love each of them so much.”
May he rest in peace.