Have a look at this website dedicated to the brave men who sat in the back of an aircraft in a turret or other exposed capsule, watching out for and firing at the enemy: http://www.air-gunners.co.uk
Fighter pilots often owed their lives to their gunners, and vice versa. With the changing technology and needs of warfare, gunners often changed jobs, learning to be wireless operators or radar operators. When 256 Squadron converted from Boulton Paul Defiants, which required a gunner to operate the armed dorsal turret, to Beaufighters, which had radar operators instead, the Squadron’s gunners were given the opportunity to retrain as ROs if they desired. Many of them declined and were transferred to Bomber Command in early 1942. By Christmas that year, my father had learned that all of those who transferred were lost in action, apart from one who was a POW.
On occasion, Dad’s RO, Ralph Gibbons, even had to act as gunner in a Beaufighter when they were converted to daytime coastal command duties, operating a Vickers gas-operated machine gun. Under fire from ME109s, he did his best to defend their Beaufighter while my father put the plane into full throttle and took emergency evasive action. One plane was shot down beside them, another never returned to base. Ralph was trained initially as a ‘navigator’, and his skills and expertise were continually being developed throughout his wartime career. He spent some time on returning from North Africa as an instructor within Bomber Command, and finished his service on Mosquitos, flying not with my father but with a Flt Lt McAlpine on 23 Squadron at Little Snoring in Norfolk. If anyone has any information on Flt Lt McAlpine, I am sure Ralph’s family would be delighted to learn more about him.