Former servicewoman, Laura O'Neill, became well accustomed to breaking the glass ceiling during her 26 years in the Royal Navy and now she's inspiring the next generation of women to follow in her footsteps.

The Rosyth mother retired medically from service last year and spoke to the Press to take a look back at her military career ahead of International Women's Day tomorrow, March 8.

She's throwing her weight behind Poppyscotland's efforts to pay tribute to women in the armed forces on the day.

Laura, 43, said: "I went into the navy at 16, straight from school and trained as an engineer.

"I was deployed with 800 Naval Air Squadron on board HMS Invincible. This was still a very new concept at the time as females had only been serving at sea on-board ships for three years.

"There was very few of us in the grand scheme of things and we had no senior female ratings at all to provide guidance or mentoring but was a challenge we relished.

"There were tough times throughout my career, but I got used to a male dominated environment and everyone has a part to play, especially in a crisis where you have to rely on each other.

"When my daughter was only two years old when I was deployed to the Mediterranean, I felt more judged then my male colleagues.

"It seemed more socially acceptable for them to leave their young children, but people were very critical of me for leaving my daughter at home.

"It was just not even an issue for men."

Despite tough times, Laura relished her long career in the Navy. She achieved "senior maintenance rating" - meaning she was in charge of aircraft on a ship and was only the second female in the history of the Royal Navy to achieve such status.

"There are no barriers standing in the way of girls now, everything is open to them in the military," Laura said.

"The only restrictions are in their own self-belief and I hope my story gives them the courage to go for it.

"I think females can bring a very different set of skills that not necessarily males can.

"They are able to calm situations down, negotiate, and just bring a different approach.

"In my first couple of years, I was particularly good at getting down into small places on the aircraft where the boys just couldn't get in!"

Laura had no intention of joining the forces until her dad, also an engineer, was made redundant.

She previously had her heart set on teacher training, but she was financially not in a position to pursue that and joined up the Navy thinking it was something that would be a career step for a few years.

"Of course, I joined and never looked back!" she explained.

"But I did teach a lot of young engineers in the end, so I guess I went a long way about it!

"I think my friends and family thought I would go and come back after a few weeks - I was very strong-willed and they didn't know how I would take to discipline, but it actually suited me really well!

"My mum wouldn't sign the papers to allow me to join, it was very emotional for her, so my dad had to it.

"But they were very proud of me and they would like to show me off to their friends when I was back visiting!

"Given the chance again I would still do it. I would never have wanted to go into the Royal Marines, it just wouldn't be for me, but if girls are physically and mentally able, I say they should go for it!”

After taking charge of aircraft on a ship in 2008, Laura was left "devastated" when she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after.

She had to take a step back from what she describes as the "pinnacle of her career" and was never deployed again. She took on training roles before health difficulties brought her military career to an end last summer.

Laura added: "It was quite a shock.

"I've been wondering what I'm going to do because I wanted to do something good for my soul, so I've just applied for a job with Poppyscotland where I would be delivering workshops.

"It will be a great way for me to continue to encourage girls and talk about my experience.

"My husband Paul continues to serve in the Navy as head of youth engagement for Scotland and my daughter Milly goes to a military school in Dunblane, so I'm still very much part of that community."