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Post about coins that saved Belgian soldier’s life in WW1 goes viral

16:15 14/11/2018

There have been hundreds of newspaper articles published around the world about the 100th anniversary of Armistice, but one Reddit post from an Antwerp man may have gotten the most attention.

International news and social media picked up the story of Vincent Buyssens of Antwerp, who’s simple Reddit post “These coins stopped a bullet and saved my great-grandfather’s life during World War 1” with a fantastic photo of a line of coins, one more damaged than the next, was voted up 131,000 times and got more than 2,000 comments.

Over the last 48 hours, the story has picked up speed and been viewed more than one million times. Buyssens, 28, told the story of his great-grandfather – passed down through the generations – to VRT.

He explained how his great-grandfather, Optatius Buyssens, was turned away from the military because of old injury to his hip. “But he went voluntarily to the front,” said Vincent. “On his first day, 26 September, 1914, he was sent to Lebbeke. The jangling of the coins in his breast pocked attracted the attention of a German soldier, who shot him. Ironically, it was the same coins that saved his life as they deflected the bullets.”

Story ‘speaks to the imagination’

Optatius was indeed injured and hit the ground. The German soldier kicked him in the head to make sure he was dead, but Optatius didn’t move.

The soldier left, and Optatius fled. He wound up in the Netherlands and eventually the UK, where he fully healed and went back to Belgium after the war to start a family. He died in 1958.

“My father collects memorabilia from the First World War, and there are a few personal things that belonged to my great-grandfather, including these coins,” said Vincent. “So this story is well-known in my family. I heard it some time ago, and it always stayed with me.

Last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, so Vincent found it an appropriate time to share the story. “There was a lot of attention paid to the war, also online,” he said. “The story of my great-grandfather is one that really speaks to the imagination, almost too good to be true. That’s why I posted it. And it’s amazing that 1.3 million people have seen it.”

Vincent points out that, as his great-grandfather produced children only after the war, the coins saved many lives that day – including his own.

Written by Lisa Bradshaw