It was with a mixture of excitement and horror that 15-year-old Denis Eynstone sat in a field on the edge of Oxford watching aerial dog fights between British and German pilots in 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War.
Three years later he became rear gunner and youngest member of a Lancaster bomber crew piloted by William Mallon, which flew missions over Germany.
Their experiences, both harrowing and uplifting, have been pieced together by the son of flight engineer Robert Jay and compiled into a new book called The Mallon Crew.
Out now ahead of Remembrance Sunday, author Vic Jay traces the crew’s stories during the war and how they unfolded 70 years later.
Mr Jay, 69, from Lincolnshire, said: “I found all these amazing tales and tragedies. There were these awful stories even though the crew actually survived.
“Denis’s was one of the most fascinating because he was so young, 19, and as a boy in Oxford he used to watch the Germans and British fighting overhead and made little drawings of the planes.”
Mr Jay, a retired biology teacher, managed to track down Mr Eynstone’s daughter Wendy Edson and helped her find out more about what he did during and after the war.
Rear gunners, known as ‘tail-end Charlie’, acted as lookouts to warn their pilot of any threats and defended the plane from enemy fighters using his four Browning 303 inch machine guns.
Mr Eynstone, who was born in Headington in 1925 and went to St Andrew’s School, would have squeezed into the tiny rear turret to fly backwards for up to eight-and-a-half hours at temperatures that could plummet to -40 degrees Celsius at 20,000 feet.
The life expectancy of a rear gunner was estimated earlier in the war as two weeks, or five operations.
Ms Edson, who now lives in Nottingham with two sons, said: “I admire the courage it must have taken for a young man of 19 to subject himself to the terror, freezing temperatures and loneliness of being tail-end Charlie.
“With only his thoughts to occupy him, knowing he was a sitting duck, that his luck could run out at any minute and that his survival was dependent largely on his colleagues and God, he must have gone through a type of living hell every mission.”
The Mallon Crew, based at RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire, was one of the few crews which survived the war. Mr Eynstone re-enlisted in the RAF.While with No. 25 Squadron a bomb became frozen to its mounting and the pilot ordered Mr Eynstone to kick it free.
After a fiery argument during which Mr Eynstone suggested an alternative – that the plane should fly lower – he was proven correct when the bomb thawed out and fell into the sea.
After leaving the RAF he became a fitter at the pressed steel car plant in Oxford.
He was a keen footballer and played for the Quarry Nomads, now called Oxford City Nomads, and enjoyed dancing at the Oxford Palais dance hall with his friends and family, where he and his mum excelled at the jitterbug, a dance popular in the 1940s.
Mr Eynstone moved to Devon on retiring in 1987. He died aged 86 in 2011.