Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 11:59 UK

500,000 get war effort passports

City workers in London during the Blitz
The scheme is open to veterans and civilians of World War II

More than 500,000 people have received a free passport in a scheme honouring their contribution to the war effort.

Britons born on or before 2 September 1929 are entitled to free travel documents, to recognise veterans' and civilians' bravery in World War II.

Since the scheme began in 2004, more than 519,000 people have benefited, the Identity and Passport Service says.

Home Office Minister Lord West said the scheme honoured "every adult who helped defeat the evils of Nazism."

The scheme allows every eligible Briton to be exempt from application or renewal fees for passports - which currently stand at 72.

'Tremendous bravery'

The 500,000th passport was issued to James Woolley, 82, from Maidstone in Kent, who worked as a heavy goods vehicle fitter during World War II.

He plans to travel to see his daughter in Canada and to see his son in France.

Lord West said Mr Woolley's passport marked "a milestone in a scheme which honours every adult who helped defeat the evils of Nazism".

It's always difficult drawing a line, one feels sorry for the people who fall the wrong side of it but I think it's a very good concession
Lord West

He added: "This is a generation which faced incredible hardship and loss and demonstrated tremendous bravery both on the battlefield as well as on the home front."

The idea of a cut-off point on 2 September 1929 was that only people who were 16 or older at the end of WWII should be eligible.

But Brian Mellor, from Newbury in Berkshire, who was born nine months too late to benefit from the scheme, believes the cut-off date should be 1931.

He told the BBC: "In common with a lot of other young people, I had a fairly disturbed war, one way or another, what with air raids, evacuations and changing schools and it seems to me that the cut-off at the age of 16 at the end of the war was rather high, particularly bearing in mind that at that time many children left school at 14 and were in work."

Lord West said the idea was that those who were 16 at the end of the war had given about two years of work - and there had to be a cut-off somewhere.

"It's always difficult drawing a line, one feels sorry for the people who fall the wrong side of it but I think it's a very good concession - 519,000 people so far have had this."

Asked whether it was simply "gesture politics" he said: "I think it would be a sad world if one didn't try and think of things like this."

He said there were about 2.5 million eligible people who had not yet taken up the scheme.


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