Edinburgh Centre for Global History

'The Land of Tomorrow': The Ex-Service Free Passage Migration Scheme 1945-1960

This project examined the British government’s free passage scheme for ex-service men and women who wished to migrate to the British dominions and empire after the Second World War. It ran 2012-2013 and was funded by the Scottish Government.

It drew on a range of government sources and personal testimonies to investigate the complex interplay of personal, economic and military reasons why ex-service personnel took advantage of the scheme and why they chose specific destinations. It looked at the scheme from three perspectives: (i) the British government; (ii) the receiving governments; and (iii) the ex-service personnel themselves. In particular, it focused on the gap between rhetoric and reality in each of the three perspectives. In London, despite talk of consolidating imperial authority through migration, there was considerable internal opposition to ex-service migration. In the receiving countries, public statements about the need for ‘British stock’ hid a determination to get the right type of migrant and to exclude others. For the ex-service personnel themselves, there was often a significant difference between the life they wanted and what they found in their destinations. Later on in the project, the focus narrowed to Scottish participants in the scheme, and primarily compared those Scottish ex-service personnel who emigrated to their counterparts in other parts of the British periphery, particularly Ireland.

Project leader: Dr Bernard Kelly