Brigadier Ben Wrench took over as Commander 51st Infantry Brigade, Headquarters Scotland last May and has successfully continued the work done by his predecessors in promoting the Army@TheFringe as a much-valued contributor to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
It’s been important ...that we are doing something that supports the cultural life of the city and the country
Commenting at the end of the season he said, “The Fringe is world renowned, so, after the year we’ve all had, I am pleased that the Army has been making a small contribution to helping the performing arts, and the Fringe, to recover”. The Brigadier was no newcomer to the Fringe and no stranger to Scotland when appointed. His mother is from Glasgow and holidays were often spent with the wider family; around Lockerbie, where his grandparents lived, and around Glenelg where his uncle owned the Ferry House, site of the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland that still crosses to the Isle of Skye. As an undergraduate he was a member of the Savoy Opera Group and played the lyric baritone lead of Dr Daly, the vicar, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer. He also helped out with the set design and building for a Fringe production of Orpheus in the Underworld. “It gave me a real insight into the sheer skill, talent and determination that are needed in the performing arts. And that’s something we’ve seen so much at this year’s Fringe."
Although not from a military family, his father was a reserve officer who ran the combined cadet force at Taunton School. He attended there before moving to The King’s School, Canterbury, where he sang in all the choirs. He developed a strong sense of vocation and thought he might enter the priesthood, but his school chaplain had done national service in the Black Watch and invited them to the school to perform a demonstration of the Beating Retreat. He was immediately drawn to the ceremony and was swayed from his other calling to a life in the military. Through the school’s liaison officer he was subsequently introduced to that Regiment, the Scots Guards and the Gordon Highlanders. He made three potential officer’s visits in 1988 and two years later passed the selection process. Still thinking he might be in the army for a few years before moving to another job, he completed his master’s degree in comparative religion, having gained a bursary to The University of Edinburgh where he joined the Army Training Corps before attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Thereafter he espoused the institution's motto, Serve to Lead, which has been the guiding principle of his military life and even in respect of the arts, “As society looks to returning to some sort of normality it’s been important to me personally and as a public servant that we are doing something that supports the cultural life of the city and the country”. It’s a far cry from service around the world in places such as Afghanistan, Belfast, Kenya, Canada, Germany and Hong Kong, but for him it is all part of the same process of engagement with people and societies; of identifying with their situations and appreciating their needs and becoming a socially responsible force for good.
“One of the things that Army@TheFringe is doing is nurturing emerging talent,” says Wishaw. “It would be wonderful if in years to come we were remembered as having helped people get their careers underway.” From my conversations with artists performing at the East Claremont Street Venue 358 and with the programme’s highly creative producer, Jordan Blackwood, that is undoubtedly the case and we look forward to many more years of stunning work there.