The son of Alfred and Annie Evelyn (Shaw) Atkey, Alfred Clayburn Atkey's family left Toronto to pioneer western Canada in 1906. From Minebow, Saskatchewan, Atkey returned to Toronto as a journalist for the Toronto Evening Telegram. On 19 October 1916, he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps as a probationary Second Lieutenant. By September 1917, he was a bomber pilot assigned to 18 Squadron, flying the D.H.4, and on his way to becoming the highest scoring two-seater pilot of World War I. In his fitness reports, he was described as an "expert in gunnery, bombing, photography, reconnaissance." In May 1918, Atkey assumed command of "A" flight in 22 Squadron. Abandoning the "Four," he began flying the Bristol F.2b. For his gunner and observer, he chose Lieutenant Charles Gass. Together, they were deadly, shooting down 29 enemy aircraft in less than one month. They were lucky too. On one occasion, their Bristol Fighter was so badly shot up that Gass had to crawl out onto the lower wing to counterbalance the aircraft so that Atkey could fly it back to base.
In an historic dogfight known as "Two Against Twenty," Atkey and Gass, together with John Gurdon and his observer, Anthony Thornton, encountered 20 German scouts during the evening of 7 May 1918. In the epic battle that followed, Atkey and Gass shot down 5 enemy aircraft while Gurdon and Thornton knocked down 3. Two days later, Atkey and Gass again shot down 5 enemy aircraft in one day.
Atkey emigrated to the United States
in 1923. On 23 January 1924, at age 29 and employed as a writer in Los Angeles, California, he filed a Declaration of Intention to become an American citizen.
U.S. Naturalization Records, Declaration of Intention, Los Angeles, California, 23 January 1924
Military Cross (MC)
2nd Lt. Alfred Clayburn Atkey, R.F.C.,
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When engaged on reconnaissance and bombing work, he attacked four scouts, one of which he shot down in flames. Shortly afterwards he attacked four two-seater planes, one of which he brought down out of control. On two previous occasions his formation was attacked by superior numbers of the enemy, three of whom in all were shot down out of control. He has shown exceptional ability and initiative on all occasions.
Lt. (T./Capt.) Alfred Clayburn Atkey,
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During recent operations he destroyed seven enemy machines. When engaged with enemy aircraft, often far superior in numbers, he proved himself a brilliant fighting pilot, and displayed dash and gallantry of a high order.