When were you first introduced to Harry Leslie Smith?
For me, it was a combination of Twitter, and a law lesson; the veteran’s tweets started to appear, more on more, on my timeline. During a philosophical discussion, on the last day of my journalism qualification, he came up in conversation too; in the context of the Brexit/Trump/Russia story, lead by Carole Cadwalladr, with reference to this piece.
I had loved Harry’s Last Stand; for that reason, I was delighted to review Love Among The Ruins. (Thanks to Icon books for gifting it to me.)
I have virtually always been interested in the Second World War; the level of interest was an indicator that I am on the Autistic spectrum. (Special interest!) This book was one that stood out to me for how unique it is; you rarely hear about what happened in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat. It’s also not as well documented how occupying forces fell in love with the women of the occupied country. Less still the challenges of having to marry.
Harry Leslie Smith has a distinctive voice, clear from the first page; it makes for riveting reading. He also bucks traditional convention, such as in his argument that old age does not bring wisdom.
Love Among The Ruins is Smith’s account of how he met his wife, Friede, in occupied Germany. (Brief extract available here.) Despite the immense odds stacked against them-starvation, religious reasons, hostility based on national politics, among others-they overcame it all together. And they remained married until the day Friede died in the late nineties.
These are the early days of their union; there’s the madcap schemes, the conflict of military life, and at the end a defiant attitude. (For instance, Harry auto-excommunicated himself, as he wouldn’t have been able to marry Friede in church. Why? Because of her nationality. He also liberated her from a lampshade production factory, complete with horses, partly, and the owner who made use of cheap labour in dangerous conditions.)
History when taught in schools sometimes lacks the ‘humanity’; the cost of war, for instance, is reduced to a reductive statistic of casualties per battle. This is the reality, how to battle on to the bitter end. By the end of this, I felt like I had been taken back to 1945’s Hamburg, observing the events from my suspended chair in time. And I was cheering Harry and Friede on.
I will miss Harry being on Twitter; his incredible “last stand” has not been cut short, and will continue on, thanks to his son, John. If you read any book, read this one; to have faith, and to keep that little bit of humanity, is what we could all take forward.
DISCLAIMER: this book was gifted to me, at my own request, for the purpose of an honest review. Find out more here.