Text of speech given by Harry L Smith to Colne Valley Labour and guests on 24th May 2016. The speech belongs to Harry. Please do not copy or share beyond this site.
I am both happy to be back in Huddersfield and sadden that it must be because your hospital is threatened by closure from an uncaring and cynical Tory government.
I have to say Huddersfield has a special place in my heart because it was here in 1940 on very cold and wet December, that I at the age of eighteen enlisted in the RAF.
The rest they say is history but I am proud of my time in the air force and feel grateful that I survived and lived to see the birth of the NHS.
But now I am gutted because as my candle burns down to the quick, so to does the ideals that founded an NHS that was free at the point of use for all its patients.
I truly worry for what will be become of this country that I love so much because what has passed is now becoming your future.
That is why I speak so much of what it was like in my youth during the 1920s, 1930s and 40s.
Over nine decades ago I was born in the barbarous year of 1923. I came into this world not too far from here in the coal mining community of Barnsley.
I can still smell the coal dust, feel the damp of that long ago time.
In fact as the light fades on my life, I am drawn towards the narrow cobbled streets of my early life that were fraught with poverty and sickness.
Back then existence was a hard scrabble battle for many Britons because we lived in a primitive era when there was no NHS and good health care was a privilege that only the rich could afford.
In the winter of my years, I don’t reflect upon my boyhood with nostalgia. It’s impossible since, I learned too early in my days that life for those who can’t access a doctor or medicine due to financial circumstances can be a brief and a sad affair.
You see, in 1926 when I was a small lad my sister Marion contracted TB and died in a work house infirmary because even though my dad was a miner who worked six days a week down in the pits make the coal barons rich beyond their dreams he was too poor to be able to afford either proper medical care for his daughter or even proper nutritious food on his working class salary.
Tragically during my childhood in the early 20th century thousands met their end like Marion. I can even remember as a boy hearing the piercing cries from open windows on our street from people dying from cancer who didn’t have the dosh to buy morphine to ease their passage from life.
To this day, I am haunted by the inhuman manner in which my sister’s illness was treated or how the society of my youth believed that only the well to do or well connected deserved medical care.
That is why after the brutality of the Second World War my generation of ordinary people demanded that our nation create the NHS.
We knew it was our only hope of making life better for ourselves, our parents and our children.
The people of my generation sacrificed so much during the Great Depression and through the Second World War that creation of the NHS became our peace time dividend.
The creation of the NHS was also our solemn pledge to future generations that we would be a civilized nation that would treat all citizens as worthy of care and compassion.
The NHS is for me is as great as Magna Carta because our public health service freed millions from the tyranny of sickness and poverty to move forward and lead productive lives.
We must remember that the NHS is as essential to our nation’s well being as the armed forces are to protect us from foreign threats.
It's why this decision to close the A & E in Huddersfield is more than tragic it is malevolent because the health and well being of the people of this town are now under threat because politicians like David Cameron think that if you are an ordinary worker you don't deserve first rate medical care.
My generation, your parents, grand parents and great grand parents didn't endure the privations of the Great Depression and the horrors of the Second World War to see our decedents deprived of their right to health care in the communities where they live and work. It appalls me that over the last three decades the forces of neo liberalism have weakened the fabric of our society by vandalizing our welfare state by under-funding it or privatising it. They have wreaked havoc on our economy by keeping wages low and allowing the untaxed profits of giant corporations and the 1% to go off shore and be buried like the loot of buccaneers in the Caribbean.
If the generations that have followed mine don't wake and fight for their rights to decent health care, decent housing education and a decent standard of living, my past will become your future.
We have to return the NHS back to being an institution for the people and by the people. It's why I have stood with junior doctors all across England in their fight for safe and fair working conditions. It's why I stand with you tonight in your noble battle to ensure that Huddersfield isn't deprived of it's right to a hospital that serves and protects the health of the people in this community.
In 21st century Britain we are faced with so many problems from social to economic.
But I am confident that you, your children and your grandchildren can solve them and make our country a decent place to live for all of its inhabitants.
But if we don’t have our health, we won’t be able to remedy our nation’s other ills because we will be in a constant battle just to survive. It's why all of you in this room, along with your friends, neighbours and fellow citizens must show the resolve of those who will not be broken by tory propaganda and intimation in this battle to keep your A&E open.
Use every peaceful means from demonstrations, boycotts, letter writing, appeals to the UN, EU or anyone else who will listen to your plea that David Cameron and his privatising Tories keep their mitts off your A & E.
So I am asking you as an old man who has seen the world before the NHS existed to stand fast, stand proud and defend the birth right my generation won for you in the slums of the great depression the battle fields of the second world war.