Harry Leslie Smith, 94, on Trump, refugees and poverty

Harry Leslie Smith, 94, on Trump, refugees and poverty
From Al Jazeera - November 11, 2017

London, England - When Harry Leslie Smith was a boy, his father hoped that by dragging his hungry son along as he begged for a shift at the Weetabix factory in the northern city of Bradford, sympathy would secure him a day's wage.

Smith, now 94 years old, says his father would cry out to the factory manager: "Look at my boy. He's starving!"

But millions of men in Britain were out of work in the Great Depression era, and sympathy in the slums of Yorkshire was hard to come by.

With his father languishing in unemployment, Smith snuck out to the factory alone, "because a boy alone is easier to take pity on".

Some workers allowed the child to ride rounds with them and gave him boxes of broken cereal to take home.

The Smith family was so poor that dinner would be Weetabix not with milk, but water.

For years, even when they were finally able to afford more food, Weetabix would never reappear on the table - the sight of it was too painful.

Having grown up in poverty, Smith later served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War.

He has seen the best and worst of humanity, and now his optimism is sinking.

[Trump] will be the beginning of a revolution that will spread throughout the world and maybe end civilisation. I am dreadfully scared, believe me

Harry Leslie Smith

From the unpredictability of hawkish US President Donald Trump and the refugee crisis, to neoliberalism and the British government's squeeze on the National Health Service (NHS), there is much about the current state of the world that angers Smith.

"The US is in turmoil - they do not know which way they are going and unless Trump is eradicated and pushed out, he will be another Hitler," he tells Al Jazeera, speaking before a book reading in London's Wood Green district. "That's all it amounts to. He will be the beginning of a revolution that will spread throughout the world and maybe end civilisation. I am dreadfully scared, believe me."

He is here on a crisp autumn evening to promote his fifth book. Do not Let My Past Be Your Future is a reflection on poverty and a wake-up call for younger generations to think beyond personal desires and work towards a more equal society.

His slight figure is wrapped in a suit and a black leather jacket. The memories of the cold sink deep into his bones - his family could not afford enough coal to heat the house. He asks for his gloves to keep warm during the interview.

One by one, young and old ticket holders find their seats in the Big Green Bookshop to listen to Smith. Many came to know about the event on social media.

For the past seven years, he has shared his thoughts, frustrations and warnings on Twitter, gaining almost 140,000 followers. He also recently launched a podcast.

Standing outside my hotel young woman maybe 30 with kit bag slung on her shoulder. Stops me apologises and says"I do not know how it happened but I am homeless can you spare a couple of pounds so I can sleep in a hostel." Thanks to Theresa May it's 1932 all over again.

Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) November 9, 2017

A lifelong socialist, he brought the 2014 Labour Party conference to tears with a blistering speech about an England before the NHS, describing "when common diseases trolled our neighbourhoods and snuffed out life like a cold breath on a warm candle flame".

His latest book carries an endorsement by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: "Smith is a vital and powerful voice speaking across generations about the struggle for a just society."

'Today immigrant is a dirty word, it's ridiculous'

Born in 1923, Smith's greatest concern now is for the millions who have been forced from their homes through war, persecution or poverty, often all three.

As a young soldier, he witnessed the floods of refugees across Europe abandoning their homes in the hope of finding safety.

"Roads were loaded with men, and women and children mostly, who were giving up their homes rather than face a Hitler barrage," he says. "These were people who had been taken as slave labour in German prisoner-of-war camps and people who were scared for their lives."

When many arrived in Britain, he says, they were welcomed in a manner that would be unrecognisable today.

We have to learn to live with each other. There is not that much difference between us. We all have to eat to live. We all have to work and have a job


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