Commander William Henry Isaac Atkinson, DSC, DC, 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 the US 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.
Please click here to view a gallery of photos from the family.