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Help Preserve the Legacy of Harry Leslie Smith

$12,612 of $100,000 goal

Raised by 397 people in 6 months
On Nov. 28, 2018, when daybreak was preparing to be born, my father, Harry Leslie Smith, died in my arms at the age of 95, in an ICU hospital ward after battling sepsis and pneumonia for a week. 

The “world’s oldest rebel” who had dedicated his last decade of life to warning the younger generation to not make his past our future by blindly accepting austerity, the politics of hate and the creep of fascism was no more. 

In the last years of his life, Harry, with me acting as his caregiver, son and comrade in arms, traveled across Canada, Britain and Europe to make a last stand to defend the principles of a just civilization where all citizens have the right to public health care, affordable housing, education, proper wages and to be protected when made vulnerable by the cruel hand of fate.

It was not an easy road Harry chose to take at the end of his life. In fact, he would have been much more comfortably off had he just spent his golden years in the pursuit of his own pleasures and comfort. 

But Harry believed in service to society especially when it was in peril, which is why in 1941 he joined the RAF to do his part in the fight against fascism. 

As his son and the person who was closest to him, I know his health would have been much better had he chose to take a backseat to the calamities of our time. He couldn’t though. So, despite pulmonary fibrosis, COPD and congestive heart failure, Harry Leslie Smith raged against the dying of the light through his books, tours, speeches, interviews and podcasts, while I acted as his faithful caregiver, best friend, partner and political collaborator. 

Neither he nor I regretted our decision in 2010 to unravel the tragedies of his generation’s youth during the Great Depression. Moreover both he and I were very gratified that Harry was able to finish five beautiful and poignant books within the relatively short span of eight years, and this is testament to both Harry’s work ethic and mine. 

But books like Harry’s do not earn much and all that he made he drove back into the costs of spreading his message of hope and determination. 

It was a privilege to serve and work side by side with him as he became the living bridge to the great and tragic history of the 20th century. My dad’s life began in the misery of preventable poverty and he was hell bent on ensuring that other people would not experience his hunger and despair. 

Harry was a light of hope in a world made dark by austerity, war and the greed of the 1%. Unfortunately, his sacrifice in later years and my devotion to him have now ironically left me in a tough financial situation because as he was not a professional politician, an academic, a person of wealth, just simply an ordinary pensioner, his Last Stand impoverished him and me. 

Harry’s Last Stand left us with debt that we needed to incur to keep ourselves housed and fed over these last 10 years, so that Harry, along with his generation’s struggle to build a Welfare State for the many and not the few, could be used as a beacon to rally the 21st century into action, before the curtain of populism and the politics of hate blanketed every society across the world in a tyranny. 

It’s why I desperately need your help to keep Harry’s legacy alive and complete his Last Stand. To preserve that legacy and continue on his mission, I need to clear our debts or face the real possibility of losing his copyrights to the bank. What is essential to preserving his legacy is for me to continue with his refugee tour and finish his incomplete book on the refugee crisis as well as write my own book about the profound relationship that Harry and I developed with each other in the last decade of his life when we overcame the grief of losing my brother to pulmonary fibrosis.

Know that whatever you give, your generosity will cement Harry Leslie Smith’s legacy until Britain, Canada and the rest of the world become a place of dignity for everyone. With thank, gratitude and great humility.

John Smith
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This week, the world’s oldest rebel and my dad Harry Leslie Smith will have been dead six months. To me, it feels like only six minutes have past since he stopped breathing. His shirts still hang in his bedroom closet while the book he was reading before he was rushed to hospital sits on a table beside his favourite chair.

Since he died, the singularity of my existence spreads out towards me like the ocean tide at night. When I eat my dinner, in silence, the television as my companion, with the detritus of our life together scattered around the living room in the apartment we once shared, I become acutely aware of the hole my father’s death has torn open in my own existence.

My intense feelings of loss over my dad’s death are only natural: I was not only his caregiver for many years, but we were also best friends. I feel my father’s absence profoundly because our love, our friendship and our comradeship with each other has been amputated irrevocably by death.

I know he was 95 when he died: he had more time than my mum got, whose life ended at 70, or my brother Peter, who only made it to 50. But it still hurts, because there is no shelf life on love or loyalty. I was lucky that he lived most of his life in perfect health and that I was able to work closely together with him in his last years on his Last Stand project to make Britain and the world better for all of us. But it still feels to me like he was on this earth for just a few innings in the sun before sunset fell.

Still, it was honour to be a part of the pageant of his life and witness him go out in a blaze of glory with his indomitable efforts to make refugees welcome. It’s why I know the resurgence of Farage’s Brexit Party in the recent EU elections, along with the strong showing of Marie Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvi’s Lega Party in Italy, would have disturbed him.
Britain’s current political collapse into extreme right-wing populism and nationalism because of Theresa May’s inept ambitions to deliver a bad Brexit to the nation was one of my dad’s greatest fears before he died last autumn. He was aware that our preoccupations with Brexit were turning our politics rabid and making it harder for refugees to find sanctuary within our communities. If he were alive, I know he would have continued on with his journeys to refugee camps. That’s why I have travelled through France, Spain and Greece to break bread with refugees since he died. I tell them my dad believed Europe and Britain have an obligation to treat today’s refugees with the same care and concern that refugees were treated with at the end of the Second World War, when over 200,000 Polish refugees were settled in the UK besides thousands of others from different countries.



As Britain thrashes about in the dark political waters Brexit created, it’s apparent we’ve forgotten the plight of today’s refugees. In fact, Theresa May’s government reneged on the commitment it made in 2016 to take in 488 unaccompanied refugee children from the Calais region. After only taking in around half of its quota, the government halted transfers earlier this month, with no explanation for such cruelty.

My father and I saw how unaccompanied child refugees lived in the so-called Jungle in barbaric conditions in 2016. This winter, after my dad died, I went back to Calais and saw not much had changed for the refugees languishing there, except that they were scattered in woods or on barren industrial estates surrounding Calais, rather than in one main squatters’ encampment. It was terrible to know that in France, a country rich in wealth, human beings lived hard lives stripped of most of the essentials of civilisation, always in fear of the French police finding their campsites in early morning because then they would destroy their tents, seize their shoes and break their mobile phones.


In the last years of his life, my dad travelled tirelessly to tell people of his past. He described how he feared that we were returning to a time when ordinary humans weren’t respected and their lives were treated as if they were as cheap as chips. He believed that the British people had a spirit that was compassionate, caring and accepting of different cultures. He had seen it in the people he knew in the slums of his youth and in the soldiers of his generation who fought fascism.

I have to believe he was right, because my grief over his loss couldn’t handle mourning the death of his legacy of hope as well. Over the next six months, I will travel in my father’s place to more refugee hotspots and lobby governments to remember the greatest generation when it comes to how they deal with refugees.

Harry Leslie Smith was the author of Don't Let My Past Be Your Future, published by Little Brown. John Max Smith continues the work on Harry’s Last Stand project. You can follow him on Twitter @harryslaststand
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I am writing to you on the eve of my trip to the refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece. I want to update you on what I have done, thanks to your assistance, to help preserve my dad’s legacy as the “World’s Oldest Rebel.” My dad died 5 months ago on Nov 28th and it has been a very long and tough road of mourning whose end is far from sight. I believe I have, however, used these months since his death to work tirelessly to further my dad’s legacy. But I have been fortunate that friends and strangers alike have tried to share my grief and shoulder some of the burden. The sadness over my father’s death by so many people across the world is proof to me that the five books he wrote along with his essays, podcasts and speaking tours were not in vain. He did make a difference and continues to do so. It was testament to his influence that my father had a memorial in Toronto, Canada hosted by the Broadbent Institute in January followed by a memorial in London hosted by Unite the Union where Jeremy Corbyn eulogised him along with spokes people from the UNHCR. Hundreds came to both memorials and thousands watched online as I said a public goodbye to my dad and outline why his life epitomised the spirit of the Greatest Generation. During the time since his death I have also been able to visit refugees in Calais and Dunkirk where refugees live rough in unhealthy conditions that are dehumanising and cruel. I was also able to travel to Spain and visit with refugee workers who are making it easier for refugees to assimilate in their country. I will be returning to Spain in a few months to document the trials and tribulations of refugees and what must be done to make society more accepting of refugees as well as continuing on to Italy and the Balkans to follow up on the hostile condition’s refugees are receiving in these areas. My pending trip to Greece is also following this similar theme, as I am attending a Unesco conference where I will address academics and front-line workers on how we can better make refugees welcome in Europe and end the despair that refugees endure while languishing in camps while awaiting sanctuary. I am also traveling to Greece to gauge the wellbeing of refugees and those who aide them to help complete my father’s book on the refugee crisis.
When I return from Greece; I will be flying to Calgary at the beginning of May to address the Alberta Labour Federation at their AGM to discuss the great work my dad did fighting austerity, promoting trade unionism and trying to make refugees welcome.
I have not rested since he has died in my attempts to ensure that neither my dad nor his message are forgotten. That is why I have prepared sample chapters for my dad’s agent to pitch to publishers about the book I am writing dealing with the life my dad and I lived for the last ten years of his life as we worked jointly on ensuring that my dad’s past doesn’t become our future.
In this era of never-ending news content, it is a very difficult task to keep my dad’s passions front and centre with decision makers. It is why I am pleased about two significant accomplishments of fulfilling my task of preserving the legacy of Harry Leslie Smith. Harry’s Last Stand now has a Spanish publisher and will be available in a Spanish language translation and a blue plaque will be placed at the front of one of the houses my father lived in as a teenager when he resided in Halifax.
But what I am over the moon about is that my dad has been granted posthumously the Stanley H Knowles award for humanitarian work by OPSEU which is Canada’s largest public sector union. It is a prestigious award that has been granted to luminaries like Nelson Mandela. I will be receiving this recognition of my dad’s tireless efforts to make the lives of so many people free of want, disease and fear, in Toronto on May 24th .
Following, this ceremony, I will then leave for the United States and Mexico to report on the migrant caravan and the growing threat of fascism in America. The aim of all my work and your help is to set up an independent charitable organisation that will continue promoting my dad’s beliefs and good works for as long as we need the spirit of the Greatest Generation to lead us to a world for the many and not the few.

Take care and thank you for everything you have done to help me continue Harry’s Last Stand.
John Smith
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