BRAVE Chester soldier Chris Shone - who has returned home for Christmas after being set ablaze by an Iraqi mob - has told of the terrifying moment he came under attack.
The image of the 22-year-old on fire after being attacked in Basra shocked the world earlier this year and made the front page of every British newspaper.
This week, Chris was back at the family home in Wordsworth Crescent, Blacon, after a heroic year in Iraq which almost cost him his life.
His outstanding bravery in the face of hostility was recently used as part of the Royal British Legion's 2004 Poppy campaign, with the slogan 'He was able to walk away . . we're here for the thousands who aren't.'
Speaking for the first time of the moment he came under attack, the former Blacon High School pupil said: 'I am lucky to be alive. When I got fire bombed I was scared and wanted to come home.'
Images of the Royal Artillery gunner on fire were beamed around the world after he and his 13 colleagues were at a demo hijacked by bomb-throwing fanatics, furious at the killing of Hamas terror boss Ahmed Yassim - the 'Bin Laden' of Palestine.
The assault on Chris and his fellow soldiers in March came at what was initially thought to be a regular street protest by disgruntled Iraqi job-seekers.
But the first soldiers on the scene were met by a baying mob armed with sticks and rocks. The troops donned riot gear and took up position behind clear plastic shields as they were pelted with rocks and chunks of concrete.
As one squad took cover behind Warrior armoured vehicles several explosions erupted, engulfing them in flames.
The soldiers frantically broke for shelter, tearing loose their helmets and equipment straps while comrades tried to beat out the flames.
'We were out in the streets and we were being fire-bombed all day, said Chris.
'When I got hit I quickly took my helmet off and my sergeant major doused me to put out the flames. I was scared. The whole thing happened in a flash.'
As well as being fire-bombed, Chris also survived a devastating pipe bomb attack which injured his sergeant who suffered a shrapnel injury to his neck and a fellow soldier who is still in hospital with severe leg injuries.
Amazingly, Chris did not suffer any lasting injury - contrary to national newspaper reports that he was recovering in hospital from third degree burns. In fact, he was back street fighting just days after his attack.
'I could definitely feel the heat but I was not injured at all. The day after the attack my picture was on the front page of every British newspaper. I was quite surprised. I do think I am a hero,' said Chris.
'The Sun said I was in hospital with third degree burns which was wrong. It gave the wrong message to my family.'
Following the attack, Chris rang home to tell his mum Wendy and sisters Nichola, 18, and Amy, 13, that he was OK.
However, Mrs Shone took some convincing that it was her son's face splattered across the media.
'We get the papers in Iraq and I was quite surprised to see myself on the front of every paper,' said Chris.
'My mum did not believe me at first when I called her to tell her I was OK.'
Like his mum, he believes matters are getting too dangerous out in Iraq and did not think he would ever see such action after joining the Army on leaving Blacon High at 16.
For now, Chris is hoping that he will not be sent back to Iraq in the New Year but sends his best wishes to the British troops currently out there.
'Morale among the British troops is high. They can never take that morale away,' said Chris.
'When something like this happens all the squaddies pull together. We are very close. We are one big happy family. They can't pull us apart by attacking us.'