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Date: 28/11/18

"Don't Let My Past Be Your Future"

Photo of Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith
Author and activist
b. 25 February 1923, d. 28 November 2018

Harry Leslie Smith was one of the most remarkable figures of the last decade.

From wretched, hard-scrabbling origins in Yorkshire, and having fought Fascism and endured hardships and personal tragedies in a long life, he became in his latter years a clear voice for the values for which he had fought and lived.

These Warnings From History were all the more compelling for being Warnings From His History: here was a man who had seen deep poverty and squalor, with all its other attendant evils; he had seen the chauvinistic reaction of his neighbours to his German wife (which caused them to emigrate to Canada); he had suffered the illness and death of one of his sons; and at the end of it all, he saw many of the dark shadows of the past come creeping back to life.

And he wrote about them, cogently and fearlessly, whether it be the wanton and deliberate destruction of our health services by the natural heirs of those who had so viciously lorded it over his family and many another in his childhood, or why he would no longer wear a Poppy™ in protest against the festival of raucous, rancid rah-rah of which it had become an unavoidable symbol.

To the ever-ascendant Hard Right, he was an irritant, an inconvenience; all the more so because they could not indulge in the usual tactic of demeaning and demonising someone who was one of the last surviving veterans of that world to which they wish to return us all; that of violence abroad and equally-profitable squalor at home. So they tried to ignore him. But a man who, in his late seventies, went backpacking around Europe to revisit the places he had last seen as a serving soldier was not going to allow himself to be so easily dismissed. And so the memoirs, the polemics, the admonitory articles all flowed from him.

(And those who were sufficiently arrogant or deluded to take him on found themselves on the wrong end of it every time, as this article demonstrates).

Harry Leslie Smith embodied - and spoke eloquently for - a set of civilised and humane values which have been all but airbrushed out of our Official Past, and which continue to be ignored or slighted in our Golden Present. He spoke; we must act.