In memory of those who have Crossed the Bar


William Henry Isaac Atkinson, D.S.C., C.D.


Commander, RCN


Born: 22 Apr 2023, Minnedosa, Manitoba


Died: 18 Jul 2015


ATKINSON, William Henry Isaac - born April 22, 1923 in Minnedosa, Manitoba and took his final breaths on July 18, 2015 at the age of 92 in White Rock, British Columbia. He was the son of John Lawrence Atkinson, Jack, born in Leeds, Yorkshire and Selina Antonia Black, Tony, of Minnedosa and was named after his grandfather, also William Henry Isaac Atkinson. Jack immigrated to Canada and married Tony in 1922 after returning from fighting in WW1. Dad was born a year later. Left to miss Bill is his devoted wife Val Atkinson. His twin sisters Bette Patterson and Barb Smith. His son Thomas Atkinson (Alma), daughters Pamela Atkinson Sigurdson and Lynne Welock (Phil). Grandchildren Duke Cormier, Bradley Welock, Becki Littlejohn, great grandchildren Max, Josh, Hannah and Jaxon and great great grandchildren Mitchell, Cobain and Lola. His son Larry Atkinson predeceased in 2010. Billy, as he was known in school, our dad, grew up on a farm in Minnedosa with his mother Tony and father Jack, his much younger twin sisters, Barb and Betty, and his favourite pony Roxy. He loved those early days and often told us of his adventures with Roxy. He'd stop by the dairy farm on his way home from school and enjoy a big glass of buttermilk. This treat continued to be a favourite into his adult years. As a youngster, dad developed a keen interest in planes and flying. His mom paid 5 dollars for his first short flight at 10 years old. After that every chance he had to earn money was used to pay for flying lessons, so it was a natural choice for him to enlist in the RCN flight training program in 1943 at the age of 19. Dad received his pilot wings in the spring of 1944. It was in July of 1945 as a Hellcat pilot on board the carrier Formidable that dad became a flying Ace. It was not until many years later that as part of the Memory Project, author Wayne Ralph wrote "Aces, Warriors and Wingmen," first hand accounts from Canadian WW2 pilots, when we truly understood the significance of his contribution. He was not one to talk about those days even when prodded. He was one of the lucky ones. He came home. Naval historian Peter Lawson, of the Shearwater Aviation Museum wrote another book about dad, "A Gentleman Aviator, The biography of "Bill Atkinson" which also opened our eyes to the great adventures our dad had participated in. This story really amazed us, about an incident that took place near the end of the war. While he was on a mission his plane was struck, as noted by his wingman, the New Zealander R F Mackie, since oil covered the undercarriage. Dad's commanding officer ordered him back to the aircraft carrier but Dad refused since his plane was still operational and he had sensed the adversary was in the vicinity. He made a successful hit on a Mitsubishi Zeke and was told as he was debriefed by his commander in the ward room later that day, "That was pretty wild, Bill." From then on he was "Wild Bill." Dad quoted the saying, "there are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are few old and bold pilots." Dad truly did luck out as he was the only surviving Canadian pilot on board the HMS Indomitable to ever see Sydney again, and two of seven Canadians who survived on board HMS Formidable. He never forgot. In fact he and mom travelled to Okinawa in 1998 to honour his friend Hammy Gray VC and to look for peace in his heart. He returned home after the war and chose to stay with the Royal Canadian Navy, married our mom, Valgerdur Sigurdson in July of 1946, and immediately moved with her to their first military post at Royal Roads Naval College, in Esquimalt BC. Of course, this meant a hair raising trip across the Rocky mountains where Mom, who grew up on the prairies, spent much of that trip on the floor of the car! This was the first of 20 some moves to come. Along the way his children entered the picture. First Larry, then Pamela, Tom and Lynne. He stayed with the Royal Canadian Navy for 30 years and had a very distinguished career. In 1962 he took Command of the legendary HMCS Haida and after her refit, captained her on her last deployment through the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway to her retirement home in Bayfront Park, Hamilton, where Canada's "fightingest" ship is on display permanently. This was one of many proud moments in his career. He moved his family from east to west and south to north. His final posting was 4 years in Washington, DC as the Canadian National Defence liaison. He fulfilled very sensitive work, described by the Director of US Naval Intelligence as having contributed immeasurably to overall increased intelligence exchange and cooperation. A model liaison officer. Dad retired in 1973. An inheritance from Mom's family provided them with the opportunity to buy a small acreage in Peachland, BC. This decision was to open many doors. They built their own home, then subdivided the remaining land. With success of this project, and a hot real estate market in the Okanagan, they both took their real estate licences and never looked back. Dad was a very successful agent and received many awards. It was a happy and fun time in their lives with all their children grown up and living on their own. The travel bug bit and they were off for Mexico, Japan, Europe and Hawaii. New Zealand was visited to catch up to Dad's relatives that had dispersed during early last century migrations. Winters were often spent in California and Arizona. Then in 1986 they both retired for the second and final time. The moves continued to Victoria, South Surrey, Abbotsford and finally back to White Rock in 2002 where Dad spent his final years. Dad loved his wife, Val, for an incredible 69 years of marriage. He was devoted to his children, grandchildren, great and great great grandchildren. Dad loved blueberries. He was free to go after enjoying one last season of his favourite fresh blue berries. Then and only then it was time to take flight. We love you more than blueberries Dad and look for signs you are with us every day. Celebration of life to follow at the family home. We offer our heartfelt thanks to all of those kind souls who made dad's life so comfortable in his own home for the last several years as he gracefully declined and required care.


Ships served in:

HMS MACAW (1944)





HMCS HAIDA - Served in HAIDA in 1949 as Lt (P), RCN.  //  15th Commanding Officer - 20 Jul 1962 - 22 Sep 1963

HMCS NEW LISKEARD - Served in NEW LISKEARD in 1949 as Lt (P), RCN

HMCS MAGNIFICENT - Served in MAGNIFICENT in 1950 - 1952 as Lt (P), RCN

HMCS NOOTKA - Served in NOOTKA in 1958 as LCdr (P), RCN, XO



William “Wild Bill” Atkinson, Royal Canadian Navy

Canadian naval ace shoots down torpedo bombers


Four Hellcat fighter aircraft were scrambled from the deck of His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Formidable.


It was July 25, 1945, and war in the Pacific raged on.


Flying one of the Hellcats was Sub-Lieutenant (SLt) Bill Atkinson, a Canadian naval officer serving with the Royal Navy (RN).


Not long after taking off, incoming Japanese aircraft were detected. Two Hellcats were forced to return to the carrier for repairs so Atkinson assumed the lead of the remaining two Hellcats and was vectored out to intercept.


Under the full moon, Atkinson identified the bandits as big, single-engine Grace torpedo bombers and took his New Zealand wingman, SLt R.F. Mackie, into the attack.


Atkinson latched onto a pair of Graces and shot them both into the water while Mackie dumped the third. Then, in routing the other bandits, a fourth Grace was damaged and the enemy attack was completely broken up.


Atkinson was credited with shooting down three Grace torpedo bombers, establishing himself as a Canadian naval ace of the war in the Pacific. He is one of only 16 Second World War Fleet Air Arm pilots to achieve five or more air victories.


Joined the RCNVR in Winnipeg


A native of Manitoba, Atkinson volunteered for naval service in 1943 at the age of 19. On January 16 he was accepted into the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) at His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Chippawa in Winnipeg.


Unlike others Atkinson had no plans to go to sea on a convoy escort. Instead, he sought out and was accepted into a special program that provided pilots to the RN.


Atkinson immediately went overseas to the United Kingdom, for basic flying training as a Leading Naval Airman and then returned to Canada for Elementary Flight Training School and Service Flying Training School.


He received his pilot wings in April 1944 and after promotion to Sub-Lieutenant was posted to HMS Ravager for deck landing training on Supermarine Seafires, a naval version of the Spitfire adapted for operation from aircraft carriers. Later he was transferred to Royal Naval Air Station Puttalan in Ceylon for advanced flying training on the Hellcat.


The Hellcat was one of the finest carrier-borne fighters available at the time. In its wartime service with the U.S. Navy, Hellcat pilots were responsible for approximately 5,000 of the 6,500 Japanese aircraft that were shot down.


Strikes on oil fields


In December 1944 Atkinson was posted to the 1844 RN Hellcat Squadron aboard HMS Indomitable. Soon after, the RN fleet was asked to carry out a strike on the oil fields and tanks at Palembang, Sumatra.


The targets in the Palembang area were at Songei Gerong, which had been the East Indies oil refinery for the Standard Oil Company, and Pladjoe, the former Royal Dutch Shell refinery. These establishments represented 50 per cent of the oil used by Japan.


In January 1945, Atkinson flew his Hellcat as a combat air patrol during carrier-borne aircraft attacks against the oil refineries at Palembang. In this operation the allied forces downed 13 Japanese planes and damaged six at a cost of six Corsair fighter-bombers and one Hellcat.


In early April, Atkinson participated in strikes against the Sakishima Gunto Island group and in air strikes on Formosa. These raids, called Operation Iceberg, were designed to neutralize airfields that were being used by the Japanese to resupply Okinawa.


In the initial raid on the Miyako Airfield, Atkinson downed his first enemy plane as a wartime pilot, a Japanese “Betty” bomber, but he was only awarded a probable kill. On a subsequent raid he scored his first confirmed kill, a “Judy” bomber.


Six days later Atkinson shot down an enemy “Zero” which was credited to him as a confirmed kill before continuing to shoot down several other fighters and bombers. These achievements were not without cost. In an attack on Sakishima in May 1945, his aircraft was badly damaged by flak.


At the end of June, while Indomitable was undergoing refit, 1844 Squadron was relocated to HMS Formidable. Atkinson was in good company in Formidable as other Canadians were serving there at the time, including Lieutenant (Lt) Robert Hampton Gray.


Though the war was nearly over, the Fleet Air Arm still had business to do. On a clear and sunny day in August, Atkinson was the friend who helped Hampton Gray strap himself into his Corsair in preparation for a raid at Onagawa Bay, Japan.


In that day’s raid, Gray sank the Japanese destroyer Amakusa, but tragically was killed in the process. For his valour, Hampton Gray was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.


Awarded Distinguished Service Cross


For his fearless flying Atkinson was awarded with a Mention in Despatches, followed by the Distinguished Service Cross “for gallant services in the Pacific, and for gallantry, skill and marked devotion to duty in the Far East.”


After the war, Atkinson stayed in the Navy. He served as a squadron leader and as a pilot for Banshee jet fighters. In 1958 he was posted to Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nootka as Executive Officer, and after being promoted to Commander in 1962, assumed command of HMCS Haida. Later he became Commanding Officer of HMCS Venture, the Officer Training School.


Atkinson retired from the Navy in September 1973 and moved to Peachland, B.C. He died on July 18, 2015.


During the course of his naval career, Atkinson flew a total of 3,400 hours and accomplished 241 day deck landings and 34 night deck landings.

(Source: Gov't of Canada website - The Maple Leaf, 23 Nov 2023)



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