Refugees, Trump and Twitter – Harry Leslie Smith in his own words
Harry Leslie Smith, the 94-year-old author, Guardian contributor and Twitter troll-basher, has recently published his fifth book.
Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future is a moving account of his life growing up in Yorkshire during the Great Depression.
“Plunging into what was a deeply unpleasant period of my life was painful for me,” he says, “because as any writer will tell you, your mind, emotions, whole personality become enmeshed in what you write. It dogs you as you write it and then follows you afterwards, lingering in your imagination.
“So if you’re like me, someone who plunges deep into an unhappy period in your life, you relive it over and over again. It’s quite painful. In fact sometimes when I write I feel like a sponge diver who must be careful not to come up to the surface too quickly because you might get the bends.”
Harry was late to the writing game, although he read a lot as a child in his local library and tried his hand at poetry during WWII.
“I started writing as a means of self preservation. I was in my 80s, knew my days were getting shorter and decided that I needed to document what I had experienced as a young boy and man growing up in working class Yorkshire during the Great Depression.
“When I was younger I knew I could never become a writer because my education was spotty as I’d been put to work as a child labourer at the age of seven and left school to work full-time as a grocer’s assistant at fourteen.
“I was lucky though because I did read and despite the Great Depression, England still had decent libraries for the poor and working classes.
“I hope my books act as a political reminder to people that the past is always going to repeat itself unless we correct its mistakes.”
He finds it bewildering he’s become a media celebrity – “I’m too old to let it get to my head” – but enjoys sparring on Twitter, saying: “It’s me, and only me, who tweets from my account. I’ve always found that funny how some people want to disparage the old by claiming they couldn’t possibly use new technology.
“Young people have to remember that ‘new technology’ didn’t just happen to their generation. I didn’t use a telephone until I was in the RAF at the age of 18 but after that I was learning morse code and radio operations.
“People are always learning which is why I introduced computers into my work place in the early 80s for inventory control, and I can only assume some trolls try to claim it’s not me tweeting because they don’t like my message of socialism and a fair deal for all.”
Despite a recent illness that has seen him in hospital with a run infection, Harry’s working on a new project, travelling from Turkey into Greece, up through the Balkans and into Italy, Spain, Germany and France to document the refugee crisis which, he says, is more serious than the one at the end of WWII, when he was stationed in a newly-defeated Nazi Germany.
“It is worse because of societal indifference as well as the sheer evil of Theresa May and Donald Trump’s governments,” he says.
“That I’m willing to spend the last years of my life breaking bread with refugees to help end this preventable suffering will be my greatest undertaking,” he says. “If we don’t tackle the refugee crisis and soon, war will soon follow that will be as catastrophic as the one I experienced against Hitler. Moreover, I don’t think it will have a happy ending.”
Harry tweets at @Harryslaststand. You can donate to his new book hereÂ https://www.gofundme.com/harrys-last-stand-tour