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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Online vigil for veteran Harry Leslie Smith as he is admitted to Canadian hospital

The self-confessed ‘world’s oldest rebel’ and advocate for refugees is seriously ill in hospital

Mr Smith's son is sending updates while the activist is in intensive care. Icon Books
Mr Smith's son is sending updates while the activist is in intensive care. Icon Books

Harry Leslie Smith, a veteran of the Second World War and activist became the subject of a social media bedside vigil on Tuesday as details of his serious health condition were shared on Twitter by his son.

Originally from the then-impoverished mining town of Barnsley in the UK, 95-year-old Mr Smith now lives in Ontario, Canada. After living through the Great Depression and fighting in the Second World War, he has spent much of his life working to advance human rights and preserve Britain’s welfare state, publicising his views to his 230,000 Twitter followers.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Smith’s son, John, tweeted from a Canadian hospital to inform the veteran’s followers of his admission to hospital with a suspected cardiac condition. In response came hundreds of messages of hope, support and prayer from the public, causing the hashtag #IStandWithHarry to trend on Twitter in the UK.

The response was so strong that some online compared the outpouring of support on social media to a vigil.

A regular contributor of his wisdom to the Guardian newspaper, Mr Smith has also penned five books on his personal experiences and their impact on his political views. His most recent effort to impact the public consciousness has been a $71,000 crowdfunding drive to visit refugee camps across the world and shed light on their struggles.

As updates on his illness were released by his son, donations continued to roll in to his crowdfunding website, presumably in the hope that he will recover to continue his visits.

As well as members of the public from all over the world, prominent British figures also took to Twitter to send their support to Mr Smith.

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn asked John Smith to “pass on my best” to Mr Smith, saying the UK’s National Health Service needed him.

Mr Smith has been an outspoken supporter of the Labour leader and advocate for welfare rights in the United Kingdom, as well as taking an interest in refugee issues.

John Smith kept his father’s supporters updated on his condition throughout the night, stopping only to get some rest.

The latest update said Mr Smith is sleeping in an intensive care unit.