When my grandfather Charles “Charlie” Truman reached the shores of Normandy on 6 June 1944 as part of 150,000 Allied troops seeking to liberate France – and the rest of Western Europe – from the Nazis, he didn’t think he would ever see his pregnant wife again. However, a decision he made the night before ended up saving his life.

At 26, he was among the first of the 150,000 Allied troops landing on Sword Beach for Operation Overlord, the historic invasion of northern France that would mark the beginning of the end of the Second World War. The night before the invasion, as troops descended into the landing craft, they were ordered to leave their bags behind. My grandpop, as I called him, was never one to disobey, but faced with the daunting uncertainty of what fate awaited him, he decided to keep one item: a silver frame with a picture of his wife Joyce. She was five months pregnant with their first daughter – my aunt.

At dawn, a few hours after making that impulsive decision, he was running hard and fast, pushing inland after landing on the Normandy beach. Their objective was a German bunker complex codenamed Hillman. He ran ahead of his company, unaware of the size of the Hillman fortress ahead of him – an aerial photo provided by intelligence just days before D-Day showed the fortification covered in vegetation, thus rendering the real scale of it invisible. Underground, 60 German soldiers were inside the network of bunkers. Charlie and his comrades from A Company came under heavy machine-gun fire as they advanced with fixed bayonets. Charlie was spotted by German gunners and shot down by enemy fire.

One bullet hit Charles in the lungs and knocked him down. A second round came immediately, this time aimed at his chest. That second bullet hit what became my grandfather’s personal body armour – that silver photo frame – and deflected through his arm. He patched himself up with the single dressing he had and started to crawl back down towards the beach. After losing a dangerous amount of blood, he had to stop. Help came when fellow troops found him and carried him back to await the medic boats, with shrapnel falling all around the casualties along the shoreline.

Unlike so many of his comrades that day, Charlie made it back to England. He spent 16 weeks in chest units all over the country. A brief telegram was sent to my pregnant grandmother explaining her husband was in a critical condition. She made her way down alone to the south coast to find him, not knowing what condition he was in. It had been bad – at one point he was removed from resuscitation and read his last rites, but he pulled through.

My grandfather, like so many other veterans who survived D-Day, didn’t repeat the stories very often. I know it troubled him for years. But when he did, he always said that a combination of luck and love had saved him in those moments. It’s hard to pick out the most memorable survival stories from the veterans of D-Day, especially when it becomes ingrained within your own family’s history.

My grandfather, Charles ‘Charlie’ Truman, was born and raised in Lincolnshire. He started working from seven years old, making deliveries for the family’s butcher shop, whilst learning the trade along the way. He left school at 14 and became a full-time butcher until the outbreak of war in 1939. That same year, he joined the Suffolk Regiment (now Royal Anglian Regiment), and became the runner for his company. Runners were expected to carry out their duties swiftly. As Charlie had always excelled at cross-country, he was a natural for this job.

As a child, he would let me run my fingers on the bullet wounds, never really wanting to go into the fear and horror he would have seen that day. He lost several friends and was so close to death himself, spared only by an act of love. Charlie Truman died in December 2011.

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