Trafford Local Studies have discovered this interesting story about a young nurse from Altrincham who was captured as a Prisoner of War.

On October 2nd 1914, the Altrincham and Bowdon & Hale Guardian published an article titled “Nurses Experiences” Altrincham Lady’s Adventures at The Front”. The story related to a party of 8 nurses who had travelled to Belgium with the Duchess of Sutherland to care for injured soldiers on the front line. The nurses spent six weeks at the front before being captured by the Germans as Prisoners of War. After 4 days they were released on the condition that they would not return

One of the nurses was referred to by name as Nurse Netherwood a former resident of Ashfield Road in Altrincham. “She speaks of thrilling experiences, and some of the sights have been so horrible, that she declares, she is unable to mention them”

“For four days they were prisoners of war, but were eventually allowed to leave under American protection and returned by way of Namur, Huy, Liege and they were delighted to arrive safely at Maastricht”

Altrincham and Bowdon Guardian October 1914
Altrincham and Bowdon Guardian
October 1914
Altrincham and Bowdon Guardian October 1914
Altrincham and Bowdon Guardian
October 1914

From these brief references in the local newspaper, we became intrigued about the story of this young nurse and wanted to know more about her, so using genealogical resources we decided to look into her life in more detail.

This is her story ………………….

Her name was Marie Margaret Netherwood and she was born on 22nd March 1881 in Sheffield, Yorkshire the daughter of Joseph Walshaw Netherwood, a travelling railway inspector and Eliza Netherwood (nee Fenner). She had a younger sister Ethel born in 1885

Sometime between 1891 and 1901 the Netherwood family moved to the Altrincham area, to live at number 6 Ashfield Road, Altrincham. Marie became a well-known member of St. Margaret’s Church Institute, Altrincham.

1901 Census (
1901 Census (
Slater’s Street Directory 1906
Slater’s Street Directory 1906

Marie trained as a nurse at the Borough Hospital in Birkenhead working there for three years as a staff nurse between 1905 -1908. She then took up a post as a charge nurse at Ilkeston Accident hospital before moving to Broadstairs in Kent to work in the General Institution.

By 1911, she was working as a private nurse in London. The 1911 census indicates that she was living at 41 Catherine Street, Buckingham Gate, Westminster, as a boarder with Charles Fenner and his family. As Fenner was her mother’s maiden name, this was probably a close family relation.

When war broke out on August 4th 1914 Marie immediately offered her up skills to the war effort and became one of a party of only 8 nurses, who travelled with the Duchess of Sutherland to set up a hospital in the Namur. 

“The Duchess with eight English nurses was in charge of a hospital in Namur during the whole of the bombardment. They had under their charge some 150 Belgium wounded “…

Duchess of Sutherland and Nurses (Courtesy of Tony Allen
Duchess of Sutherland and Nurses
(Courtesy of Tony Allen

The Duchess of Sutherland kept a diary of the experience and wrote

“Left England on August 8th to join the branch of the French Red Cross called Secours Aux Blesses. The President is the Comtesse d’Haussonville. We steamed into Boulogne Harbour to the loud cheering of crowds on the quay and cries of Vive l’ Angleterre. A Red Cross badge on that day seemed like a Legion of Honour”

The Millicent Sutherland Ambulance as it was known travelled to the border town of Namur and set up a hospital in a local convent Les Soeurs de Notre Dame. A short while later on the 22nd August the town was heavily attacked and within 20 minutes the makeshift hospital had received 45 people.

With the fall of Namur the nurses were trapped under German occupation but still managed to care for the wounded.

After capture and her subsequent release, we know that Marie soon returned to Belgium to continue her work as a nurse despite promising the German officials never to return.

Marie is referred to by name in various official documents, some of which throw some light on her lively personality. 

The British Journal of Nursing – November 7th 1914: “The following nurses have recently been sent abroad by the St. John Ambulance Association, M. Netherwood”

WO95/3989 – War Diary: 4th May 1916 – “Staff Nurse Netherwood, for going out with NCOs and orderlies. She is a transfer from BRCS and of common extraction-has promised while serving at 18 General not to offend again”

12th May 1916 – “With reference to Nurse Netherwood recommending that she should be instructed to report at WO, having been in the habit of going out with orderlies and Sergeant”

The National Archives hold her War Service records and they record that she served as a staff nurse in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve with the British Expeditionary Force, France and Belgium. On her application form for the QAIMNSR she gave her address as the No 2 Military Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. After serving for 2 years from 13th May 1915 to 16th October 1917 she resigned her post to get married.

Her QAIMNSR service records describe her as a good nurse and capable worker

On November 10th 1917 aged 36 she married William Daniel Wesley Mills, a Canadian, at St. Clements Church, Chorlton cum Hardy and at the time of her marriage, was living at 45 Church Road, Chorlton cum Hardy in Manchester. Witnesses to the marriage were Ethel Netherwood (sister) and Joseph Walshaw Netherwood (father) 

Marriage Certificate
Marriage Certificate

 She was awarded the following medals for her service in the war

British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John – 1914 Star

British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John- British War Medal and Victory Medal

Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) – British War Medal and Victory Medal

After the war ended in 1918, she continued to work as a nurse but relocated, with her husband William, firstly to Canada in 1920 then to the United States of America, where in 1922 she petitioned for citizenship. Her Declaration of Intention to become a Citizen of the United States was made on 15th July 1927.

American citizenship
American citizenship

Sometime between 1922 and 1927 she was divorced from her husband William and settled permanently in Los Angeles, California. There were no children from the marriage. She is listed on the 1940 American National Census aged 59 living on her own means at Plenty Street, Long Beach, Los Angeles California. She died on 7th November 1956.

During her career as nurse in the First World War, Marie Margaret Netherwood kept a diary of her experiences. The Margaret Netherwood Mills Papers 1914-1918 were deposited with the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, California in 1961. They contain correspondence, diaries and clippings relating to the nursing work of the British Red Cross during World War 1.



Altrincham Bowdon and Hale Guardian Newspaper
National Census
Slater’s Street Directory
British Journal of Nursing
National Archives
Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, California
Six Weeks at the War by Millicent Sutherland (Duchess of)
Tony Allen