George Durack: Jeremy Corbyn leads tributes to 'wonderful socialist', war veteran and former Islington councillor
PUBLISHED: 16:15 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:30 03 September 2018
A Second World War veteran, former Islington councillor and dedicated trade unionist from Cally died last night - and cross-party voices today paid tribute to his life and memory.
George Durack, who was 94, grew up in Beaconsfield buildings, before joining the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, and fighting in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
George worked as a postman in Hampstead for much of his adult life, and he championed better working conditions for his colleagues as the Unite secretary for the London north west region.
The life-long socialist retired from the Post Office in 1989 and became a Labour councillor for Junction ward in 1990.
He later ended up in court for refusing to pay Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.
The veteran met his late wife Vera at the Morgan School of Dancing in Camden Road and they married in 1953.
One year later their daughter Elaine was born. She looked after her father in his later life.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, who referred to George on Twitter as a “wonderful socialist” after news of his death broke, first met George in 1981. George at the time was the secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).
“His branch was the first in the borough to nominate me the candidate for Islington North,” Mr Corbyn told the Gazette today. “And he was someone I got along with over many years and had a great deal of respect for.
“He was a great councillor who had seen war and decided to dedicate his life to peace.”
After the war George did gas lighting work in Finsbury to supplement his income, which he was then making in the building trade.
“But George knew there was no long-term economic future in that job,” laughed Mr Corbyn. “Electric lighting was coming in and he decided people would always be needed to deliver letters.”
George gained brief, unexpected notoriety in 2016 when the Daily Mail accused the two friends of “dancing” as they walked to the cenotaph to pay their respects.
But the Labour leader says he merely raised his arm while talking to his war veteran friend.
“George was angry [about the Daily Mail] at the time,” he said. “But then afterwards he found it funny and said he wished he could dance.”
Mr Corbyn stood in for George at an Islington Pensioners Forum (IPF) meeting in July, where he delivered his message condemning NHS cuts.
“He had written it from his hospital bed in the Whittington,” said Mr Corbyn. “And even when he was in hospital he was more concerned about the other patients than he was about himself – he was selfless to the end.”
The MP said he visited his friend for the last time at a Hampstead hospice at the weekend, in the same area George once delivered post.
Mr Corbyn said: “He was remarkably lucid for someone a day away from dying – as I left he gave me a big smile and a clenched fist salute and said: ‘Keep at it.’
“He was one of the kindest, wisest people I have ever met. I learned so much from George and we cannot thank him enough for everything we did.”
In 2015 George was awarded the freedom of Islington for his “major and unique” contribution to life in the borough.
Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, said: “I am very sorry to hear that the great George Durack has passed away after 94 years of a life well lived.
“On behalf of Islington Council, I send our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We were honoured to award George the freedom of the borough in 2015, marking the borough’s appreciation for his many years of tireless campaigning for what was right.
“As a key part of the Islington Pensioners Forum, George was a passionate voice for many issues that affect older residents, but he also championed the needs of young people too. He will be dearly missed.”
Islington’s sole opposition councillor Caroline Russell tweeted: “This is very sad news. George Durack of [IPF] gave so much to our community, a shining example of someone contributing locally and making a real difference to people’s lives. A huge loss.”