Migration at The Salvation Army

In the first half of the twentieth century, The Salvation Army helped around 250 000 people to emigrate from the British Isles to the British Empire Dominions. 

Helping people start a new life in Australia and Canada was, in those days, believed to be a way of helping people living in extreme poverty in the UK gain skilled employment and a fresh start abroad.

The Salvation Army’s focus was not just to pay for their travel but to offer enhanced care which included a selection process and support before they set off and after they had settled.  Records show that most of the people who migrated abroad with The Salvation Army paid their own fare which suggests that the ‘enhanced care’ aspect of the scheme was popular. 

The post war years saw a further boost in emigrants as Australia actively encouraged people from Britain to emigrate. 

Children and migration 

Thousands of families happily moved to Australia, Canada and other countries and started successful new lives. However, through the scheme operated by The Salvation Army many children who were living in orphanages or in other difficult circumstances migrated and they were not accompanied by relatives or guardians. These children were then placed with other families or in institutions. This was a common policy in 1950s, 60s and part of the 70s which was overseen by HM Government.  A number of voluntary organisations participated including The Salvation Army.

Many of the records from this time have not survived but as a result of internal and external investigations we believe The Salvation Army was responsible for sending around 100 boys aged around 15 and 16 to Australia. They were trained in a Salvation Army farm and then found employment. 

The commonly held belief, including by some of the parents to the children who migrated, was that these young people were being given a better life and rescued from poverty. However, with hindsight this practice was damaging to the children, was wrong and The Salvation Army should not have participated. 

An important apology 

Territorial Commander, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill said:

“The IICSA report into child migration identified many issues with the practice of sending children to live overseas, without their parents. The policy of child migration was led by HM Government with a number of voluntary organisations including The Salvation Army taking part. The Salvation Army UK is deeply sorry to any of those children migrated by the organisation, whose experiences did not meet the high standards expected by The Salvation Army UK.

At the heart of our mission is protecting the most vulnerable people in society. The evidence heard by IICSA, and in other investigations and inquiries, has shown that the attitude adopted to child migration did not achieve that aim. 

It is right to expect The Salvation Army to be open and transparent when we have let people in our care down but we also want to reassure the public that we have learnt from history.  

IICSA’s report notes that there have been no specific allegations of sexual abuse made by children migrated through The Salvation Army UK and The Salvation Army UK has not received any complaints of sexual abuse from children it migrated. We have conducted a full review of all documentation identified as relating to the migration of children and young people to check if there is any information which would suggest any abuse.  We have also given evidence to the IICSA and fully support its efforts to give a voice to those who have been abused while in the care of others. 

Our safeguarding department is tasked with ensuring that the vulnerable people we support have the best possible care. Not only do they ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent someone from being harmed but they ensure officers, staff and volunteers know what to do if they suspect someone has been abused. We report any allegations directly to the police and have an independent expert overseeing our safeguarding work.”

Next steps

There have been numerous inquiries into the practice of child migration most recently that of the, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (“IICSA”) and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. 

While many of our records from that time were not retained we have always provided as much information as we can and have also thoroughly reviewed the records we have from the time to gather as much information as possible.

You can read more about our participation in the IICSA Case study into child migration programmes here.


If you were one of the children who were sent to live in Australia under The Salvation Army scheme, or believe a relative was, and you would like further information, please contact our Safeguarding team.

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