History Wars World War I

How pocket change saved one soldier’s life in WWI

In the case of one soldier, his pocket change did more than just offer him a beverage later that day, it saved his life.
wwi soldier coins

Having some extra change in your pocket is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, in modern times, the surprising feature may be that you have cash. However, decades ago, it was common fare and folks’ main way of paying for items. If you didn’t have cash, you simply walked away empty-handed. But in the case of one soldier, his pocket change did more than just offer him a beverage later that day, it saved his life. A total of six coins, three Belgian and three French, was all it took to do the trick.

A photo of soldier Optatius Buyssens, who was saved by his pocket change.

What makes the tale even more interesting is that the coins also gave his position away. During a secret mission in September 1914 near Lebbeke, Belgium, this stranger-than-fiction event took place. 

During World War I, Belgian soldier, Optatius Buyssens, alerted the enemy to his position when his clanking coins made a noise. However, when a subsequent shot came his way, it was those very coins that kept the bullet from penetrating his chest. Instead, the round ricocheted off his breast pocket and allowed the soldier to live to tell the tale. 

The bullet-damaged change, stacked in the order in which it was shot.

However, the German soldier who fired the gun didn’t give up so easily. He walked over to Buyssens, who was laying on the ground. The German went on to kick him in the head, while Buyssens played dead. 

The surviving soldier and another Belgian member then crawled for help. The coins, meanwhile, sustained damage ranging from large dents to minor bending. Pictures show the level of damage so you can even see the order in which they were stacked during the shot. 

The coins laid out by level of damage.

What’s even more telling is that Buyssens was initially denied by the Belgian military, due to an existing health condition, an injury in his hip. However, he volunteered his services anyway and made it into the ranks. 

He made it through the entirety of the war, living until 1958.

However, this wasn’t a bragging right for future generations. In fact, Buyssens’ family said they only learned of the event decades after his passing, when reading his old war journals. Copies of said journals were sent to them by a local museum, which had inherited the belongings, including the now-famous coins. They went on to validate the story, timeline, and their late relative’s position in the military before going public with the tale. 

The items can still be found in a local museum in Antwerp, Belgium.