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harry's last stand

'Rebel' RAF veteran and Twitter phenomenon Harry Leslie Smith dies aged 95

The veteran’s illness was documented by his son after Smith gathered a huge following on Twitter.

95-YEAR-OLD activist Harry Leslie Smith has died. Smith, who was an RAF veteran, had become a vocal opponent of austerity in recent years, and found a natural platform on Twitter.

The nonagenarian was often found tweeting about British politics and the refugee crisis on his account Harry’s Last Stand, or on his Facebook page of the same name. In recent days he had been hospitalised in Canada after a fall, and his son had tweeted about his progress. 

The technology that Smith used to communicate with people could barely have been imagined when he was born – he had a podcast as well as his social media sites. He also was an author, having written the books Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, Harry’s Last Stand and Love Among The Ruins. On Twitter, he amassed 254,000 followers.

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It was a speech that Smith gave at the Labour conference in 2014 which catapulted him to wider fame. In it, he spoke about the NHS, warning that the UK needed to “be vigilant” about it. The NHS is one of the cornerstones of Labour policy.

Smith was born in 1923 in Barnsley, Yorkshire, and lived through the Great Depression. He was passionate about social healthcare like the NHS because of his sister’s death from tuberculosis in an infirmary. Both Smith’s father and sister were buried in unmarked paupers’ graves.

His childhood and experiences with poverty spurred him on later in life to become an outspoken opponent of austerity, anti-immigration rhetoric and Conservative policies. He spoke about how he was worried about the rise of fascism and the impact of austerity on people. 

He penned a column for The Guardian about how he would not wear a poppy because he felt that British politicians were using past wars to “bolster our flagging belief in national austerity or to compel us to surrender our rights as citizens, in the name of the public good”.

Some called him “the world’s oldest rebel” for his stance on political topics.

Earlier this year, he began a Last Stand Refugee Tour, where he visited refugee camps in Europe. On his fundraising page for the tour, he said:

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. 

Harry married Friede after meeting her in Hamburg following WWII, and the couple – who were married for 54 years – settled in Canada. Friede died in 1999. He is survived by his three sons, including John who tweeted about his father’s last days.

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