This week the National Arts Centre Orchestra kicks off its tour to the United Kingdom, where it will perform five concerts to commemorate the start of the First World War. One of them will be in the historic Salisbury Cathedral, a few steps from Salisbury Plain where Canadian troops first arrived in 1914 to prepare for the war. Very few of them knew exactly what was waiting for them in the trenches of France.
For Nick Atkinson, principal tuba with the NAC Orchestra, this tour will have special significance. Not only was Atkinson born in the U.K., but he also has a special interest in First World War history. His grandfathers both fought in the Great War and he, himself served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (P.P.C.L.I.) , which was the first regiment raised in Ottawa to arrive on Salisbury Plain a hundred years ago.
“Most of these soldiers were born in Britain, so for them, they were going back home. They received a huge welcome in Plymouth and crowds sang, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,’ which was later incorporated into the P.P.C.L.I. regimental march,” explains Atkinson. He remembers his grandmother singing “The Maple Leaf Forever” to him when he was small. “The English have powerful memories of that time. When they thought of Canada, they thought of that song.”
For Atkinson, who always enjoys being on tour, this will be the first time he's returned to the U.K. with the Orchestra. “I expect the Orchestra’s tour to Britain will be a very emotionally charged experience because of this significant anniversary, which will bring old stories and memories to the fore.”