'Harry Leslie Smith is a vital and powerful voice speaking across generations about the struggle for a just society' Jeremy Corbyn
THIS A CALL TO ARMS FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW: DON'T LET THE PAST BECOME OUR FUTURE
Harry Leslie Smith is a great British stalwart. A survivor of the Great Depression, a Second World War veteran, a lifelong Labour supporter and a proud Yorkshire man, Harry's life has straddled two centuries. As a young man, he witnessed a country in crisis with no healthcare, no relief for the poor, and a huge economic gulf between the North and South. Now in his nineties, Harry wanders through the streets of his youth and wonders whether anything has actually changed.
Britain is at its most dangerous juncture since Harry's youth - the NHS and social housing are in crisis, whilst Brexit and an unpopular government continue to divide the country - but there is hope. Just as Clement Attlee provided hope in 1945, Labour's triumphant comeback of June 2017 is a beacon of light in this season of discontent. Britain has overcome adversity before and will do so again - a new nation will be forged from the ashes of grave injustice.
Moving and passionate, Don't Let My Past be Your Future interweaves memoir and polemic in a call to arms. Above all, this book is a homage to the boundless grace and resilience of the human spirit.
Harry Leslie Smith was born into extreme poverty in Barnsley in 1923. He survived the Great Depression by working as a child labourer and served his country in the RAF during the Second World War. Afterwards he returned to civilian life by marrying and, along with many from his generation, helping to lay the cornerstones of the welfare by becoming an engaged citizen.
At ninety-four, Harry is an activist for the poor, the NHS and the preservation of social democracy. He is the author of five books and a frequent contributor to the New Statesman, Daily Mirror and Guardian, for whom his video essay on the refugee crisis was shared over a million times on Facebook and has attracted huge comment and debate. Refusing to go gently into that good night, Harry now hosts a weekly podcast. When not on the road speaking about his life experiences, he divides his time between Yorkshire and Ontario, Canada.
This is a heartfelt, important work which stands both as a fine memoir and a warning to those who have not experienced first-hand the dark and difficult times that shaped the life of author. Harry Leslie Smith is deeply articulate, his words are moving and powerful, and his voice is authentic and sincere. Everyone under 95 should take heed! — Joanne Harris
This is a wonderful book and a timely reminder that so much of the progress we take for granted came not from the benevolence of the great and good, but from the collective struggles of previous generations of working people. At a time when the need for decent jobs, homes, rights and services is more pressing than ever, Don't Let My Past Be Your Future is a must read for trade unionists, campaigners and everyone on the left. — Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress
History, they say, is written by the winners. Harry is a winner. He defied the odds and poor health to beat poverty and inequality to live a long and full life. He has been a tremendous public servant to this country, and his relentless spirit spills from these pages ensuring his service to us all will survive to benefit future generations . . . Don't dismiss these as the dreams of an old man. Harry is our own 'a living bridge' to history. Read this book, cross this bridge. Take a long, good look at what you see on the other side. We must do better than be destined to repeat our history as tragedy. — Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite
I dipped into the book and then I kept on reading - it's a beautiful, wise and righteous piece of work and truly generous to the coming generation — A.L. Kennedy
Told with passion and eloquence, Mr Smith's personal story of growing up in a time without social services is a stark reminder of how close we may be (in the UK and the US) to consigning millions of people to a life of abject misery for no other reason than they were born poor. — Gale Anne Hurd, producer of The Walking Dead
This is a powerful and deeply moving personal memoir of a Dickensian-like childhood shaped by hunger, suffering and family despair in pre-war Britain. As today's world drifts back towards the extreme inequality that marked Harry Leslie Smith's childhood, we would be crazy to ignore his stirring call-to-arms in defence of the welfare state. — Linda McQuaig
With eloquence, passion and insight that can only come from lived experience, Harry Leslie Smith once again holds up a mirror to contemporary Britain and the hazardous path it is currently on.
By reminding us so vividly of the recent past and shining a light on present perils this book is an urgent warning flare against a gathering storm of far-right ideology and the collective scourges of austerity, inequality and Brexit. Most importantly of all though, it exhorts us to do something now or pay the price for complacency in the face of such threats. Please read - and give it to those you care about to read
— Mary O'Hara
Through reading Harry's words, I feel as if I am walking the bridge between his generation and my own. His experiences as a child in the Great Depression highlight the dangerous times we now live in - in which the destruction of the NHS and welfare state risk dragging us back to a Britain of the 1930s. Harry's work to defend and champion our public services is something I am endlessly grateful for. He is an inspiration — Emily Berrington
Harry has lived through the Great Depression, World War 2, and has borne witness to many of our world's greatest economic, social and cultural conflicts. He's an ordinary man, who has lived through extraordinary times, and brings his experiences of life forward with breath-taking lucidity and ability. His words are not a reflection on history, but a warning that history may be about to repeat itself. A brilliant book, by a brilliant man — Professor Vikas S. Shah, FRSA
If you truly want to comprehend the dangerous place in which we find ourselves today, social, economic and political and how we came to be in this mess, look no further then Harry Leslie Smiths extraordinary new book Don't Let My Past Be Your Future. Never have the words of this great man been of more relevance, not just to you and I but to our children and our children's children. At times Harry's book will make you angry; it will make you cry; but ultimately it will fill you with the desire to rise up against injustice and what a testament that is to the words of this incredible man — Peter Stefanovic, lawyer, blogger
Harry Leslie Smith's bravery and honesty are irreproachable, and his timely, lucid and often harrowing memoir is the perfect antidote to the schmaltzy, romanticised British history we've been force fed by the media. It serves as a chilling warning to my generation of the dangers of repeating the mistakes of British and European history. The heroes here aren't generals or politicians but the working-class men and women who struggled against hypocrisy, war and the overhanging threat of injury, disease and homelessness to achieve a tolerable life. Nothing is romanticised. Smith is candid about the machismo and mistreatment of women, not least his mum, in coal mining communities. But he never lets us forget the hidden injuries of class, the shame and stigma that comes with poverty, or the sense of hope that led people to build the welfare state. For readers today, this book is much more than a personal account of how ordinary men and (especially) women achieved dignity in history. It's a wakeup call for a society that seems intent on giving this dignity away, voting for cuts one day and retreating behind right-wing demagogues the next. It's a must-read rejoinder to Britain's patriotic myths of the Second World War that never goes soft on fascism. And it shows the heroic things that downtrodden people achieve when they put aside their differences and unite in struggle. In his ninety-four years, Smith has never faltered from his commitment to truth and international justice. This autobiography ensures that people of all generations can learn from his amazing life — Cat Boyd, co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Left Project
Harrowing with a moving message — Sunday Mirror
Harry and I were born 50 years apart, in the same town, to the same stock of hardworking Barnsley miners which is why I jumped at the chance to read his stark warning to our current and forthcoming generations. After enduring a heart breaking struggle, Harry has sought to turn the life of extreme hardship he endured into something positive and this book is exactly that. Holding up a mirror between then and now, it deftly compares our current existence with the one our ancestors trod and horrifically we are not a million miles away from each other. This is our chance to momentarily walk in the footsteps of those who trod before us and prevent the repetition that history so eagerly desires.
Coming from a genuine position of concern, this is an incredibly important book written by one of the last remaining voices of those times. It should be studied and its message heeded because, if we ignore Harry's past, our future may well return to those dark days.
— Shaun Dooley
Anyone not persuaded of the risks of believing the siren voices of selfishness and intolerance should read Harry Leslie Smith's book — Tim Fenton, Zelo Street blog
Through reflecting on his own experiences during his childhood, Harry Leslie Smith has painted a frank and uncompromising picture of the grim, appallingly miserable childhood he had to endure due to the poverty faced by his family contrasted with the, shamefully still, grim and miserable lives many people endure today in a country ravaged by cuts, austerity and political turmoil . . . The strength of Smith's work is in his deftly woven narrative which features examples from his past, contrasted with the experiences of those living in poverty today, effectively highlighting how far we have sunk back into the cesspit of greed and injustice. It is also a testament to Smith that he manages to uplift as well as horrify the reader, particularly when discussing his own route out of the wretchedness of his situation — The Book Bag
Wonderful, impassioned . . . important — Rick O'Shea
In his winter years, Smith has lost none of his righteous passion, nor his knack for vivid prose — New Statesman
Utterly compelling . . . measured but unflinching . . . the clear-sighted power of his writing is something that all of us should pay heed to and its call is one we must answer — Unison
There is not a life away from poverty once you've known it. The nicest sweets will always leave you with the shadow of hunger as an aftertaste. In this book, Harry Leslie Smith has remembered the Britain of his youth, and it's a cautionary tale. Without safety nets, people die, and poverty's few survivors always bear lifelong scars. There are few thinking-men I respect more in the world than Harry, and in clear prose he explains poverty's brutality, sparing himself nothing, so that the rest of us might learn something from his pain. The man is in his nineties and reading this book is like watching him turn austerity's boosters over his knee like naughty children; it's well worth your time. I am grateful to have been able to read this book. — Linda Tirando, anti-poverty activist
Powerfully written . . . with a passion and poignancy still all too rare in our body politic — Open Democracy