David Atcherley and his twin Richard were born on 12 January 1904, and were the sons of Major General Sir Llewellyn Atcherley, Chief Constable of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and his wife 'Nellie', Eleanor Frances (1871–1957), daughter of Richard Mickelthwait, of Ardsley House, in the valley of Deane near Barnsley. Their father was a grandson of David Francis Atcherley of Marton Hall, High Sheriff of Shropshire, Serjeant-at-law, Attorney-General of the County Palatine of Lancaster and County Durham. David Atcherley and his brother, first cousins of William Empson, attended Oundle School in Northamptonshire.
Atcherley entered Sandhurst Military Academy in 1922 after being rejected for the RAF due to medical grounds. In 1924 he was commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment. His wish to fly succeeded when he was seconded to the RAF in March 1927. Proving to be an excellent pilot he was able to have his secondment converted into a permanent transfer on 1 October 1929.
At the start of the war he was Commanding Officer of No. 85 Squadron. He commanded No. 253 Squadron in May 1940 and more postings followed rapidly. His gained his first aerial successes as a night fighter when in command of No. 25 Squadron, which was equipped with Beaufighters, early in 1941.
On 28 August 1941 he fractured his neck as a result of a crash after a take off. However, this did not stop him flying, although it did require six ground crew to get him into and out of his aircraft.
Group Captain Atcherley became the Commanding Officer at RAF Fairwood Common in 1942 and was responsible for collecting Oberleutnant Armin Faber from RAF Pembrey when he landed his Focke-Wulf 190 there on 23 June 1942.
In 1942/43 he was in charge of night fighter units during the Tunisia Campaign. Back in Britain later in 1943 more postings and promotions followed.
Towards the end of the war he served in No. 2 Group, Brussels, 1945, under Basil Embry.
In June 1952, Atcherley was lost at sea, presumed dead whilst piloting a Meteor jet fighter PR Mk.10 ( from No. 13 Squadron). Taking off from RAF KABRIT in Egypt at APPROX 11.30 am for a 40-minute flight to Nicosia in Cyprus. his aircraft never arrived at Nicosia, and no radio message was received. No trace of Atcherley or his aircraft was ever found despite an extensive air-sea search being carried out by British, Israeli, Turkish and American aircraft.29 July 1941 – Distinguished Flying Cross – Wing Commander David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
This officer has carried out a large amount of operational flying at night, sometimes under adverse weather conditions. The efficiency of his squadron and the success it has had is due to Wing Commander Atcherley's drive, energy and leadership. He has destroyed three enemy aircraft at night.11 June 1942 – Mentioned in Despatches – Group Captain David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
17 September 1943 – Mentioned in Despatches – Group Captain David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
14 July 1944 – Distinguished Service Order – Acting Air Commodore David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
This officer has completed much operational flying and has achieved notable successes. He is a fearless leader, whose iron determination and unswerving devotion to duty have inspired all under his command. In addition to his work in the air Air Commodore Atcherley has displayed a high standard of organising ability and great drive and his services have been of inestimable value.1 January 1945 – Mentioned in Despatches – Acting Air Commodore David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
1 January 1946 – Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
27 June 1947 – Officer of the Order Van Leopold II with Palm – Air Commodore David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.
27 June 1947 – OOrlogskruis 1940. Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm – Air Commodore David Francis William Atcherley, Royal Air Force.