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WWII vet, social activist Harry Leslie Smith dies at 95

November 28, 2018
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This Sept. 24, 2014 photo shows World War II veteran and political activist Harry Leslie Smith speaking during the Labour Party annual conference, in Manchester. His son John said on Twitter that Smith died Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 in Canada at 95 after being hospitalized following a recent fall. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — British World War II veteran and political activist Harry Leslie Smith has died. He was 95.

Smith had built a strong following with his calls for social justice and his warning that a greed-driven society was failing those in need.

His son John said on Twitter that Smith died Wednesday morning. He had been hospitalized in critical condition in Canada following a recent fall.

Smith’s son said that when his father realized he could not fully recover from his fall, he quenched an overwhelming thirst with a beer even though he was unable to eat anything.

Smith was an outspoken human rights activist with a Twitter following of more than 250,000. He had come to prominence in recent years with his advocacy of the National Health Service and the need to protect refugees. He was also a strong critic of Britain’s austerity program.

He had toured refugee camps to highlight their plight. He said he had witnessed scenes like that in his youth and couldn’t bear to see them repeated in his old age without speaking out.

He argued that greed and globalism were stripping away the advances wrought by his generation, which had survived the Great Depression and World War II and built a more just society.

Smith was the son of a coal miner who described the 1920s in Britain as a “barbarous” and “bleak” time in part because of the lack of health care. His sister died of tuberculosis at 3. He started work at 7 doing manual labor at a brewery.

His speech at the 2014 Labour Party conference about the difficulties of life before the NHS moved many to tears.

Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tweeted that Smith was “one of a kind who never wavered in his fight for equality and justice. We should all carry his passion, optimism and spirit forward.”

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