This coming Friday is Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11th month, the moment the guns on the Western Front fell silent at the end of the First World War. It has become the day when we remember the war dead and others who sacrificed so much in that and other conflicts.

I want to reflect on one young woman who served in the Second World War.

My mother, Joan, had a tough start to life, but probably one not uncommon for a woman of her generation, born in the 1920s and who lived through the war.

Joan was born in Rotherham in Yorkshire to James and his second wife, Eva. James’s first wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1920 after the couple had had three children, including one who died in infancy.

But tragedy struck again. Eva contracted a condition called psittacosis, also known as parrot fever. It is an infectious disease in humans caused by a bacterium and is contracted from infected parrots. The symptoms are akin to acute pneumonia with continuous high fevers, headaches, cough and severe shortness of breath.

Today it can be treated easily with antibiotics, but in 1930 it proved fatal for Eva. She died leaving James a widower for the second time, now with four children, the youngest being my mum, aged just five.

James contracted a chill at Eva’s funeral and he, too, died, just three weeks after Eva.

Joan and her 16-year-old sister, Anne, were sent to Birmingham to live with James’s brother, George, and his wife, Ada. They had five children, the oldest three having died in infancy. Their youngest daughter, Alice, took little Joan under her wing and provided the nearest thing to maternal care that Joan experienced.

Joan helped in George’s shop, but she wanted more than Birmingham could offer.

While the Second World War took young men into the horrors of battle, it was to provide a liberation for young women like my mum.

As soon as she was old enough, she enrolled in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

The Wrens, as they were known, had duties including driving, cooking, clerical work, operating radar and communications equipment, and providing weather forecasts.

After her basic training in London, she was sent here, to Brighton, for training as an electrician. She trained by day and danced by night at the Regent Dance Hall opposite the Clock Tower. She was having a truly wonderful time.

On completing her training, she and her two best friends were sent to Dover where they were billeted in a house overlooking what is now the ferry terminal.

In 2019, on one of his visits to the UK, my brother, Simon, took my two sisters and me to Dover, and we stayed in the very property where Joan had been billeted.

Dover was subjected to fearsome bombing during the war, and Joan and her comrades had to take refuge in the caves behind her accommodation.

On one occasion a bomb killed several Wrens as they left a dancehall frequented by Joan, and on another, some shrapnel went through the roof of their home and became lodged in the bed of one of the three Wrens who shared the room. The occupier of that bed hadn’t come home that night and, thereby, had escaped almost certain death.

By day Joan worked on submarines, including wiring the detonators on torpedoes. By night she danced. She hospitalised a chief petty officer who thought he could take advantage of the pretty blonde Wren by grabbing her from behind. Little did he expect her to smash the monkey wrench she was holding into his skull.

Joan was engaged twice during the war, but both her fiancés were killed. It is hard for those of us who were born after the war to imagine what it must have been like to have lost family, friends and lovers, never knowing when death might visit as an unwanted guest.

The war, my mum once said, was the making of her. It gave her the appetite to see the world. She wanted more than Birmingham and even England had to offer.

It was after the war, while visiting her brother who had become a priest in Stoke-on-Trent, that she met my dad, Tom. In the late Fifties they headed off to southern Africa with two young children in tow. It was in Cape Town that my younger sister and I were born.

So on the 11th of the 11th, I will remember those who sacrificed so much in order that we might have freedom and democracy, and today I remember my dear old mum on what would have been her 98th birthday.

She went through so much but she gave my siblings and me such a loving start in life.