From war service to domestic service: ex-servicewomen and the Free Passage Scheme 1919-22

Lucy Noakes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At the end of the First World War, the British government put into operation a Free Passage Scheme for ex-servicemen, ex-servicewomen and their dependants to emigrate to the colonies and dominions of the Empire. This scheme was driven by a complex network of interlinked beliefs and policies concerning both the relationship between the metropole and the Empire, and the perceived necessity for social stability in Britain and in the dominions and colonies. This article examines the Free Passage Scheme, paying particular attention to the ways in which it was envisaged as a means of restoring a gendered balance of the population in Britain, where young women outnumbered young men at the end of the war, and in the dominions, where men outnumbered women, and was also seen as a way of emigrating women whose wartime work experiences were understood to be in conflict with gendered identities in the post-war period. The article argues that the Free Passage Scheme needs to be understood as gendered, as it envisaged the transformation of female members of the auxiliary wartime services into domestic servants for the Dominions. The scheme’s failure, it is argued, prefigures the failure of the far larger Empire Settlement Act of 1922 to emigrate large numbers of British women as domestic servants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


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