So for my fourth book of the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, I selected the category “a book you have been meaning to read”. My choice was Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. I’d been looking for this for a while and then my husband got it for me late last year. I wanted to really concentrate on it when I read it so it got put off until April of this year. It was well worth the wait.
Its one of the most passionate, angry, heartfelt books I have read in a very long time. In some places it reads like a rant for which Harry Smith has been criticised in some reviews. I disagree. Yes, there are some passages of the book that come across as ranting but I don’t see that as a fault in this case. Harry is a World War Two veteran and one of the dwindling number of people who clearly remember life during the Great Depression. He remembers – and describes vividly – the appalling poverty and deprivation that was the norm of everyday life for far too many people in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He is rightly angry at how his family – and countless others – suffered and he doesn’t pull any punches in describing what they went through. His descriptions of the life and death of his sister Marion are simply heartbreaking.
Harry goes on to describe the war years and how new opportunities opened up for him. You can hear real joy when he details the impact that free education and the birth of the NHS (National Health Service) had on the lives of the people of Britain. And you find yourself hoping that all is going to be well. But this is the point where Harry’s anger intensifies as he analyses and agonises over how this is all being dismantled and how he can see the same mistakes and wrongs being repeated in new generations of leaders and how he can see the damage this will do to people.
This is not a gentle read but it is gripping. If – like me – you remember Thatcher’s Britain and can see the same happening again under David Cameron, you will find this book pulling at your heart and hopefully your conscience. If you were born after that time you will find much in this that is thought-provoking. If you are old enough to remember the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will in all likelihood read this and weep. But read it you must.