It was 1988. I was recon platoon commander of 6th Battalion. I was also a smoker. So was a peer of mine, Mick Mahey (he might be a brigadier by now if he’s still in.)
Anyway, we were like the Vietnam Diggers. We were with it; we had Zippo lighters, and boy, were we good with the click tricks of lighting up a smoke.
Unfortunately, on this bush trip, we had both run out of lighter fuel. But, being enterprising young lads, we noticed that there were LOH helicopters on the exercise.
So, after an O Group, we sauntered up to the 161 Recce boys and managed to help ourselves to a quantity of Aviation Gasoline. We siphoned it into our lighter fuel containers, and feeling very impressed with ourselves, we thought we’d sneak away for a quiet durry. Luckily for us, we waked away from the helicopters…
Finding a suitable tree and shady bush, we dropped our packs and webbing… one can’t just rush these things. As good officers, we leant our M16s against the tree too.
I recall smoking the John Player Specials in those days. A sign of distinction, mirror sunglasses, and crocodile skin cowboy boots… why else would you smoke these? Selecting one and passing the pack over to Mick, we produced our rocket-fuelled Zippos. In case you are unaware, aviation gasoline is kerosene-based petrol. It has a much lower flash point than normal Zippo fuel, and a much faster burn rate. That is because it is used mainly for the propulsion of helicopters, not for lighting cigarettes.
With a durry in my mouth, feeling very relaxed, I struck the spark of the Zippo at the end of the cigarette. This would have been about 100 mm from my face.
An important point to note…
The cigarette incinerated. The Zippo was completely drained, as it
burned its entire fuel contents in a fraction of a second. A massive flame erupted from the Zippo. My eyebrows were gone. Eyelashes, gone. My Bush Hat was singed and smouldering. Unable to see due to receiving an intense flame flash, I blundered to my feet and kicked over the rifle. No UD, thank The Lord. The branches and leaves of the small bush around me were on fire. Waving my arms around madly, to put out that fire, I managed to burn my hands. I had small spot burns in the jungle green shirt and pants.
Once my sight returned, I saw that Mick was in a similar fate – no eyebrows, no eyelashes, fringe singed, and sporting a peculiar dark facial tan.
Quietly, we emptied the rest of our Zippo fuel containers onto an unsuspecting ant colony, picked up our rifles, and went looking for our platoons.
Only an officer can be that stupid and breathe at the same time…

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