Here is a short story about what it’s like to step on a mine while you are invading the beaches of Normandy in a massive Allied push against the Nazis.
Just a few years earlier, even as the war had begun in Europe, Charlie Martin was a farmer in Dixie, now part of Mississauga, Ontario. But on June 6th, 1944, he was one of the first men to hit the shore as part of the largest seaborne invading force in history.
Martin was fresh off the boat and heading toward the town of Bernières-sur-Mer when he felt his foot step on something and heard a “click,” writes Mark Zuehlke in Juno Beach. He’d been trained to recognize what that click meant, as well as what would happen as soon as he lifted his foot. The German Schützenmine (“shoe mine,” pictured above) was designed to shoot “a canister loaded with 350 ball bearings” into the air in front of its victim.
Here’s how Zuehlke describes what happened in the next moment:
Martin was calm, for he had been trained to escape this kind of mine’s kill radius by simply dropping to the ground right beside it so that the ball bearings would spray out harmlessly overhead. But just as he made his move, a bullet struck his helmet, pierced right through the steel, and began spinning round and round inside the liner before exiting with such force that it tore the helmet clear off his head. Fortunately, the force of the bullet striking his head had also knocked him flat and the mine had exploded harmlessly overhead just as Martin had planned. Not bothering to retrieve his helmet, Martin fled the minefield and joined his small band.
Martin fought for almost another year before he was wounded badly enough in April 1945 that his war was over. (That’s yet another dramatic story. He was on a dyke in Holland when he ran “into a dug-in German with a machine gun. They both fired at the same time, Charlie killing the German while having his arm and leg broken, and as he fell, an anti-aircraft battery opened up and put shrapnel in his back.”)
He returned to Mississauga, had a family, a career working for the Ontario Department of Agriculture, and lived until 1997.