During World War II, women had to take over the men’s jobs, and Bella found her vocation as a welder in Caledon Shipyard, working amongst the cranes.
She was born Bella Mitchell, the youngest of five children. Her family lived in Charles Street and her baker father was a committed trade unionist. He was imprisoned during the General Strike of 1926 and politics was very much a part of the family’s daily bread.
In 1941, Bella met her husband-to-be at the Empress Ballroom – Dirk Keyzer, a seaman in the Dutch Navy. She became pregnant but, due to his frequent postings elsewhere, it was after the war in 1949 before they actually married.
She loved her job at Caledon where the men accepted the women. Although the women only had temporary union cards and weren’t allowed to attend union meetings, the boilermakers’ union backed Bella and her co-worker Jessie when they asked for a rise to come closer to the men’s pay. They won £1 per week.
Bella was paid off from Caledon at the end of the war and went on the trams, but as soon as the Equal Opportunities Act was passed in 1975, she was back. She was a loyal Labour Party member and in 1992 Dundee District Council, as it was then, gave her an award for promoting women’s equality.
The shipyards are long gone so Bella’s plaque is at the Observation Platform to the east of the Tay Road Bridge. She would have been proud that her plaque overlooks the shipping lanes of the Tay towards the North Sea, where Dundee-built ships were launched.
Image of women working on ship propellor c.1940. Reproduced with kind permission from Zoo Design
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