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My mother, Joan McLean, who has died aged 98, was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. But in 1945 she was Leading Wren 45270, serving in Scarborough, north Yorkshire, at HMS Paragon, an onshore listening base. She played a vital role keeping the wartime codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, supplied with morse code from German submarines.

In an interview for the Bletchley Park Trust, Joan recounted a few memories of her time there. One evening she was given detention for being late back. It was not her fault because the bus was late. Outraged, she mentioned this in a letter home. Unfortunately her father, a fiery Irishman, wrote to the King to complain, saying: “My daughter is fighting in YOUR war.” Needless to say, this did not help.

Joan was born in Dublin and brought up in Salisbury, the daughter of Thomas Trowbridge and Florence Youells, who owned a dress shop in Salisbury where Joan helped out. In 1940 she met John McLean, an accountant from Edinburgh, at a dance in Salisbury when he was on a course at the School of Artillery at Larkhill. After a whirlwind romance and a wartime wedding, they endured the pain of separation, as he sailed to join the Eighth Army in North Africa in 1942.

Keen to “do her bit”, with one brother in the RAF and one in the merchant navy, Joan volunteered for the Wrens, earning three shillings a month at Scarborough Y Station (HMS Paragon).

When John returned they resumed their married life in Edinburgh, with John going back to his work as an accountant. They brought up four children, Iain, Jane, me and Kevin. As well as raising us, Joan was also a gifted singer, needlewoman and linguist. She spoke Italian well and she and John enjoyed many holidays in Italy, where he had spent much of the war. He died in 2001, shortly after they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

Joan kept her wartime work secret, as she was required to do. Not even John knew about her job until Bletchley Park was opened to the public a few years ago and we learned that Scarborough had provided Bletchley with morse code from German submarines.

Joan is survived by her children and seven grandchildren.

Credit: Guardian

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