Sir John Evelyn Leslie Wrench, CMG, LL.D (1882–1966), was born on 29 October 1882, in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, part of the Province of Ulster in Ireland, the son of Rt. Hon. Frederick Stringer Wrench (1849-1926), an Irish Land Commissioner, Deputy Lieutenant and Privy Councillor, by his wife Charlotte Mary Bellingham (1848-1935), sister of Sir Henry Bellingham, 4th Baronet.
At the age of five years, his favorite literature was Army and Navy Stores catalogues, which his parents gave him to keep him quiet during railway journeys. He attended Summer Fields Preparatory School, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England (1896), and Eton College (1896-1899), where he was remembered for his kindness towards new boys, and as the best looking boy in the school.
Upon leaving Eton, he travelled on the Continent to learn languages with the idea of entering the Diplomatic Service. He noticed the lead that the Continent had over Great Britain in the production of picture postcards, and upon his return instituted a firm that soon became the largest of its kind in the country. This occupied him from 1900 until 1904, when the firm failed, mainly through too rapid an expansion and lack of capital. This venture indicated the enterprising spirit that Wrench possessed, and its failure in no way lowered his reputation.
The future Lord Northcliffe had observed Wrench's qualities and invited him to join his staff, which he did in 1904. He was editor of The Overseas Daily Mail and in addition manager of the export department of the Amalgamated Press from 1907 and sales manager from 1909. Wrench, however, was less interested in success in journalism than in his visions of Commonwealth development awakened by his visits to Canada and the United States. He told in his book "Uphill", the first volume of his autobiography, how in 1910 a turning point came in his life, crystallizing itself in his memory as a "vision" that came to him at the memorial service to King Edward VII in Westminster Abbey, where he said, "the scales fell from my eyes, I vowed I would devote my life to great causes -- to the Empire, to my fellows."
Passionately longing to make a more personal contribution to the unity of the British Empire, he formed in 1910 The Royal Over-Seas League as The Overseas Club in order to encourage international understanding. The Royal Over-Seas League is a self-funded Commonwealth organization that offers clubhouse, conference, and private-dining facilities in London and Edinburgh; organizes Commonwealth art and music competitions; and develops joint welfare projects with specific countries. In 1918, the League was amalgamated with the Patriotic League of Britons Overseas, with which group it had been working in conjunction on several projects. In 1922, the League was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation. The clubhouses have not-for-profit status and the art music and welfare projects charitable status. The governing body is the Central Council. There are reciprocal clubs, branches, or chapters in over seventy countries. The aim of the League is "To support the ideals of the Commonwealth; to encourage young Commonwealth artists and musicians; and encourage Commonwealth friendship and support welfare work." The League is pledged under its Royal Charter "to give service to the Commonwealth." He put his full enthusiasm and energies into this organization, resigned his newspaper appointments in 1912, and embarked upon a visit to the dominions in 1912-1913.
He ended up travelling 64,000 miles to all parts of the British Empire. In 1911, while in New Zealand, he gave Captain Robert Falcon Scott, R.N., the British Antarctic explorer, a clean handkerchief immediately before the latter's departure for the South Pole. His club made rapid progress and during the war of 1914-1918 its contribution included the Empire Fund to provide tobacco for the forces. It worked in conjunction with the Patriotic League of Britons Overseas, with which it amalgamated in 1918. In 1923, the society was granted a royal charter and became the Overseas League.
In 1917, Wrench joined the Royal Flying Corps. He reached the rank of major and served as principal private secretary to Lord Rothermere when he was President of the Air Council, and later as his deputy when controller for the dominions and United States at the Ministry of Information.
As a result of his experience in this last appointment, Wrench founded in 1918 the English-Speaking Union of the Commonwealth "in no narrow attitude of race pride, in no spirit of hostility to any people" and created the mission statement of the English-Speaking Union in the first edition of the organization's magazine, "Landmark": "Believing that the peace of the world and the progress of mankind can be largely helped by the unity in purpose of the English-Speaking Democracies, we pledge ourselves to promote by every means in our power a good understanding between the peoples of the USA and the British Commonwealth." The E.S.U. shortly afterwards absorbed the Atlantic Union, and was extremely active during World War II, when, among other projects, it created the Sir Evelyn Wrench Tobacco Fund to provide tobacco money for members of the Allied Forces.
In 1920, he founded a twin organization, the English-Speaking Union of the United States, which organization created the Sir Evelyn Wrench Travelling Fellowships in his honour. The first President of the English-Speaking Union of the United States was former President of the United States William Howard Taft.
From 1918 until 1920, he was a committee member of Royal Commonwealth Society. In January 1932, he was knighted by His Majesty King George V of Great Britain. For many years between the wars, Wrench acted as secretary of the Overseas League and as editor of the League's journal, "Over-Seas," in which his "Monthly Letter" was enjoyed by many as an informal summary of the previous month's events. He also served two terms as chairman of the English-Speaking Union.
In addition, he was a contributor, and from 1925 to 1932 editor, of The Spectator magazine in Britain. He had bought a controlling interest in The Spectator from John Strachey in 1925 and, although he later sold his controlling shareholding to Sir Ian Gilmour, he was chairman of the board for the remainder of his life.
Wrench's third major project, the All Peoples' Association, founded by him in 1930, while promoting friendship among the world's peoples, was largely unsuccessful. The wideness of its scope was too idealistic. Its special field in attempting understanding between the English and German peoples was poorly nurtured in the hostile soil of increasing Nazism. The publication of his book "I Loved Germany" was ill timed and misunderstood.
On 18 May 1937, in St. Paul’s Church, London, he married his first cousin, Hylda Henrietta Brooke (1879-1955), whom he had known all his life. She was the daughter of Sir Victor Brooke, Bt., sister of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, and widow of Frederick Henry Arthur des Vouex. In 1940, they set out on a tour of Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. They became stranded in India in 1941 on their way back to England. They quickly found ways of being useful in helping American servicemen. Wrench served from 1942 to 1944 as American relations officer to the Government of India, a post especially created for him by the Viceroy of India.
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“That is what we must make people feel... the catch in the throat, the wrench to steady the nerves, the determination to carry on.”
—John Dos Passos (18961970)