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From | Tuesday 30 July 2019

Malcolm, commonly known as Mally, joined the British Transport Docks Board (BTBD) at the age of 26 before the company became ABP. 

Malcolm Bell, the last registered National Dock Labour Board Docker on the Humber, at the Port of Hull.

Malcolm Bell has retired from Associated British Ports (ABP) following 50 years working on the Humber Estuary. 

Malcolm - more commonly known as Mally -  joined the British Transport Docks Board (BTBD) at the age of 26 before the company became ABP. It was there he became a registered Docker and received his Dockers' book.

The 68-year-old said the job has changed hugely in his five decades.

"My first job when I left school was an apprentice welder at the Drypool Engineering Company in Hull, based at the shipyard where they built the Bounty," said Mally.

"About six weeks later, I went on to the barges sailing up the River Trent and the River Ouse to Ganisborough, moving general cargo such as shipments of tinned fruit.”

“In 1978 I started as a Docker for the National Dock Labour Board (NDLB). That’s when the docks were absolutely full of ships from everywhere in the world and most Dockers rode a bike.

“Every day we would go into the pen that ran the labour exchange, where we would get our job. We used to call it the pen as it was like a sheep pen with hundreds of push bikes outside. Once we had picked up our job we would head off on our bike to the vessel and begin work, loading or discharging its cargo.”

“When I joined, Dockers were issued with Wrangler gear," he said. "We were given boots, jackets and jeans. Back then it was top class Wrangler gear and you always knew who was a Docker in the town because they were all out in their Wrangler gear on a night."

Equipment and working methods have changed hugely at ABP in the past 50 years.

Mally has undertaken a great deal of fundraising for charity over the years, running marathons and half marathons along with swimming the Humber Estuary on a number of occasions.

“About four or five years ago I heard about a corporate swim across the Humber and asked to represent ABP, raising money for their chosen charity at the time. The conditions were rough on the day but the swim went ahead," he said.

"As I swam, one of the other swimmers was getting a bit close, I thought it odd that he had a grey swimming cap on, we were all wearing blue caps. When I got out the lads on the lifeboat who accompanied us on the swim said 'Did you see that seal playing with you?' I said I thought it was a swimmer.”

With a grandfather and father who worked on the docks, Mally’s two sons and grandson are carrying on the family tradition. He will still work two days a week with an agency.

He said: “I have really enjoyed my working life. It has been a fantastic career and I have enjoyed every minute of it. What makes it a great place to work is the people I work with, they all have hearts of gold. Everybody looks after each other.”

In August, Mally will marry Carol, whom he met three years ago, courtesy of his daughter. Mally proposed to Carol in Australia on Cottesloe Beach in Perth. 

“When I started working, an old Docker said to me that my working life will feel like five minutes, and do you know what, he was absolutely right," he said. "If I wasn’t getting married I’d probably work until I was 100, it has been brilliant.”

ABP Humber director Simon Bird said: “Colleagues from across the Humber report that Mally is kind, funny, and hugely supportive to colleagues, especially the newest recruits, always welcoming them into the fold. On behalf of everyone here at ABP Humber we extend our heartfelt thanks for everything he has done over the years. 

"It was an honour to present Mally with the ABP Humber Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year and we wish him all the very best.”