INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day didn’t mean much to Joan Chandler, aged 15 and leaving school in the late 1950s.

It certainly didn’t mean anything to her father, who sent her straight to work in a local mill, as her older siblings had done.

But Joan had other plans. “When I walked out of that school yard, I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

And that is what she became - training initially at a local hospital then joining the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Aged just 17, the girl who had never been further than Keighley was posted to Singapore, treating men with horrific injuries stretchered in from Malayan battlefields.

Joan nursed in military hospitals for 20 years. But her career would never have happened if she hadn’t stood up to her father. “I worked one year in the mill then I put my foot down and told him I was going to be a nurse,” she said. “In those days you obeyed your father, but I was determined. I knew nursing was the job for me - and I knew there was a big world I wanted to see. If I hadn’t stood up to my father, I’d have spent my life in Ingrow Mill.”

I met Joan yesterday and she told me about her carer as a nurse, and the horrors she encountered on the front line, dealing with men, often terrified and traumatised, many with lost limbs. Like many women who served in Army nursing corps, she feels her work was undervalued. “It was the men who got all the praise. As nurses, we were ignored because we weren’t combatant,” she said. “But we were there when the men were brought in, we nursed them, got them better. “

When Joan was posted back to the UK, after illness cut her Singapore career short, it was soldiers she had treated, in the higher ranks, who told her: ‘You shouldn’t be here anyway.’

Now 76, Joan says: “It has taken years and years, but now I finally feel recognised. It’s been a long time coming, to accept that girls of my generation played such a vital role in conflict.”

Today, of course, women have a range of career opportunities in the forces. Women have more equality than ever before, in the workplace and at home, in a way Joan could never have imagined, born during the war, growing up in a Pennine village, one of seven children ruled by their father.

Tomorrow International Women’s Day will highlight how far women have come over the century since the concept was launched. It’s a day of protest, celebration, reflection - it’s even a public holiday in some countries. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, aimed at building a “gender-balanced world”.

The fight for equality is far from over - most women will have encountered some form of discrimination at work or elsewhere, and if they haven’t, they’re lucky - but we have far more of the world at our feet than women of previous generations.

Like Joan, my aunts were sent to work in a mill straight from school. One of them, a bright grammar schoolgirl and a gifted artist, would’ve been good enough to go to art school if she was born into a different class or at a different time. She’s 81 now, and still feels bitter that she was denied that opportunity.

Women continue to rage about inequality, and so we should, but we must also celebrate what we have. And as well as paying tribute to high-profile trailblazers we should recognise women like Joan Chandler who, in standing up to her father, achieved a small victory with a ripple effect. Without her defiance, her younger sister would have followed her into the mill. Instead, she joined the RAF.

* Barbie at 60 - forever the independent career girl

HAPPY Birthday Barbie, who turns 60 this month. Created by former Mattell president Ruth Handler, as an alternative to baby dolls for her daughters to play with, Barbie remains one of the most popular children's toys.

She's been no stranger to controversy over the years, not least for her weight-to-height ratio. Now there are various Barbies, from plus-size Barbie to prosthetic limb Barbie.

My Barbie doll was tiny-waisted, glamorous and all-American, and I wouldn't have wanted her any other way. But she was no bimbo. Barbie was introduced in 1959 as a career girl, and to little girls like me that was her appeal. She wasn't mumsy or girl-next-door (Sindy), she had an air of independence. Barbie could be anything she wanted to be - long may she continue.

* Tooth agony is driving me to extraction...

I HAD a tooth out a week ago and am still in pain. It didn't hurt much when the tooth was yanked out, but I've spent every day, and night, since in chronic pain. I feel like I've had five minutes' sleep, which has left me grumpy, weepy and raging at the world.

I remember my grandma telling me that she and my grandad had all their teeth taken out when they were in their early thirties. It was commonplace among pre-war working-class folk who couldn't afford dental treatment.

After the hellish week I've had, I think there's a lot to be said for that...