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Jeremy Corbyn leads the tributes to inspirational George Durack

Standing room only at funeral of former ‘desert rat’, as friends and family remember man who led ‘selfless and determined’ fight for pensioners’ rights

05 October, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Members of the Islington Pensioners Forum show their colours at George Durack’s funeral

“IN his memory, let’s make sure we have a health service that works, let’s make sure we have real security in our society and the ­elderly are not isolated.”

These were words of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as he paid tribute to his friend and mentor George Durack on ­Friday.

Minutes earlier, Labour anthem The Red Flag played as Mr Durack’s wicker coffin, laden with red roses and red carnations, was ­carried into the Islington chapel in East Finchley.

It was standing room only as the 94-year-old former Islington councillor, Labour stalwart and Second World War veteran was laid to rest. He died on September 2, leaving behind daughter Elaine and countless friends and relatives.

In his eulogy, Islington North MP Mr Corbyn praised his friend’s ­devotion to others, even in his final days.

George Durack’s daughter, Elaine, speaking at the funeral of her father at the Islington chapel in East Finchley

“In the hospital it was difficult to find out about his condition because he spent most of his time complaining about how other people were ­treated,” he said.

“That was him all the way through. He was so grateful and supportive of all the doctors and staff. He recognised their work and commitment.”

Mr Corbyn also revealed that Mr Durack’s horrific experiences in the war helped shape his own anti-war stance. Mr Durack joined the army in 1942 and served in 7th Armoured Division – known as the “the desert rats”. He would later go on to see action in Belgium, France, Holland and Germany, where he was involved in the ­liberation of Belsen ­c­­oncentration camp.

“He said the war was bloody awful and he never wanted anyone to ever go to war again. He never wanted it to happen to anyone else,” said Mr Corbyn.

Mr Durack’s daughter Elaine spoke of how her father was a keen ballroom dancer and won numerous awards for his foxtrot.

George Durack

She said: “Dad meant so much to so many ­people. He loved his family, plus he loved his extended family. He was lucky to have a lot of loyal friends. Dad will be missed by many, many people, especially me. But one thing is for certain, none of us will forget him.”

Mr Durack worked as a gaslighter in Finsbury after the war, then later became a postman serving Hampstead until his retirement in 1989. He would then go on to become a Labour councillor for Junction ward and chairman of the Islington Pensioners Forum. He first became involved in politics when he represented his fellow postal workers as a trade unionist.

Dave Ward, the ­General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, spoke to the gathered mourners of his admiration for Mr Durack.

“He made an immense contribution to the trade union and Labour movement,” said Mr Ward.

“George was a ­thoroughly decent man, whether it was through the love and support he gave to his family or the selfless and determined way he represented our members, pensioners and the disadvantaged in our society.”

He described hearing Mr Durack speak at a London district council meeting in the early 90s: “I was immediately struck by his engaging style and conversational style. It always sounded like he was talking to you as an individual. It was never ever about him it was always about our members.”

He added: “He was at peace after a lifetime spent fighting for ­others.”

‘He was funny… I feel he was a bit of a legend’

Family members Conor, Zoe and David Day at the Oak and Pastor pub, in Junction Road

MOURNERS raised a glass to George Durack at the Oak and Pastor pub, in Junction Road, after the funeral service, in the ward that he represented as a Labour councillor in the early 1990s.

Dozens of campaigners from Mr Durack’s beloved Islington Pensioners Forum were in attendance at the wake and service after setting off by coach from the Town Hall.

Dot Gibson, secretary of the Forum, paid tribute to her friend and fellow activist who fought for the better treatment of pensioners in the borough.

Labour activists and Islington Pensioners Forum members, Jessica White, Dot Gibson, Ruth Clarke, Bisi Williams, Annette Thomas and Pam Zinkin 

“We trusted each other, “ she said. “He sometimes got under my skin as friends do. We worked well together, he was a fabulous campaigner.” Mr Durack became chairman of the forum in 2004 and held the post until his death.

Mr Durack’s nephew, David Day, 62, explained how his uncle supported him after his father passed away 22 years ago.

He said: “I got a lot closer to George then. We used to talk a lot about this and that. He always used to talk about politics. We wouldn’t always agree, but he would listen to my views. George also loved horse racing, he was so passionate about it. Even when he was unwell we would always deliver to him the Racing Post. He suffered a lot in his last year but didn’t moan. I found that very inspirational.”

Conor Day, 20, described his great-uncle as “selfless”. He said: “He was always thinking about other people.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Elizabeth Offiong, Lynda Roast and George’s daughter Elaine Durack at the Oak and Pastor pub

“He was a joker,” added Mr Durack’s great-niece, Zoe Day, 16. “He was so, so funny and I feel he was a bit of a legend.”

Jeremy Corbyn spent hours talking to Mr Durack’s family members and friends at the pub. Mr Durack first met the Labour leader in the early 1980s and was the first in the borough to nominate him as an MP.

“He was a decent gentleman – compassionate, caring, with good steely principles,” said Mr Corbyn.

“That’s why I was proud to know him. He understood people’s lives and understood what alienation and depression was, and that’s why he supported people. He was a good friend to me, always. I could talk to him about anything.”

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