Vincent Buyssens

"The coins that saved my great-grandfather": Flemish Great War story goes viral

"These coins stopped a bullet and saved my great-grandfather's life during World War 1": one hundred years after the end of the First World War, 28-year-old Vincent Buyssens posted a photo and a remarkable story, capturing international attention. "It's almost too good to be true, but it is true", he told the VRT. 

Vincent Buyssens, a digital strategist from Antwerp, posted the story on the social network site Reddit, with great success. "The coins that stopped a bullet and saved my great-grandfather's life, and indirectly also my life", he wrote. The post went viral and even made it to the BBC website. (continue reading below the Reddit post)

Pretending to be dead saved his life

Vincent told the VRT: "My great-grandfather, Optatius Buyssens, was serving as a soldier during the Great War. Originally, he had been refused because of a lingering hip injury, but he volunteered to go to the frontline anyway. On his first day, 26 September 1914, he was sent to Lebbeke (East Flanders)."

"A couple of coins in his breast pocket caught the attention of a German soldier. He was shot at, but the same coins eventually saved his life, as the bullet was deflected." 

Optatius got injured and collapsed. When the Germans came to check on him, they kicked him on the head, but he pretended to be dead. He managed to get away eventually, fleeing to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where he could recover. Optatius passed away in 1958 due to a heart problem.

Over a million readers

Vincent has known the family story for a long time, but decided to post it for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. "It's a story that captures the imagination, almost too good to be true. That's why I put it online. But the fact that over 1.3 million people have read it already, is really amazing."

The post also triggered hundreds of reactions on Reddit. "You know I thought someone was gonna make an offensive joke but I guess we dodged that bullet", one said.