Remembrance Day goes smartphone-friendly in Calgary

Brad Rains kneels before the cross containing the QR code for his great-great-grandfather, John George Pattison.

For today's technology-driven youth, the sacrifices of Canada's military veterans can seem increasingly foreign.

That's why this year, the Field of Crosses along Calgary's Memorial Drive is going smartphone-friendly.

Several of the crosses at the display have been programmed with QR — or quick response — codes, which allow a smartphone to automatically pull up an online vignette about the soldier.

The Calgary-based organization partnered with the Calgary Poppy Fund, which organizes the annual Field of Poppies memorial project, to put QR codes on the crosses of individual soldiers who are commemorated on monuments across the city. 

"Particularly with the younger generations — for them to find out about these stories — we want to tell these stories where they are, and where they are is on their phones," said Tom Leppard, president of Valour Canada.

One of those soldiers being honoured through technology is John George Pattison, one of four soldiers to earn the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. 

On April 10, 1917, the 50th Battalion — to which Pattison belonged — was moving forward to capture the final German stronghold on Vimy Ridge. Machine gun fire stopped the battalion's attack but Pattison refused to be stopped and charged.

He jumped from shell-hole to shell-hole across the field until he was close enough to lob grenades into the machine gun nest. With gun fire temporarily paused, Pattison then crossed the last 30 metres to the machine gun nest and overcame the five surviving Germans, capturing the position.

Pattison survived the battle but died several months later. His great-great-grandsons — Mitchell and Brad Rains — still live in Calgary and say it's inspiring that so many will be able to connect with their great-great-grandfather's legacy.

"It's so cool," said Mitchell Rains. "It brings technology to the table so kids my age, younger, with cellphones — even adults with cellphones — can take the picture, check out the code, watch the video and they will always remember the fight for our freedom."

According to the Calgary Poppy Fund, more than 3,000 soldiers from southern Alberta have been killed in action over the past century. 

Represented in the field are those who have died fighting in the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam Peacekeeping Mission, the 1973-1979 United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East, the 1964 to present United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and the Afghanistan War.

For the Rains family, remembering their great-great-grandfather's legacy is only part of the point behind efforts like this.

They say they hope using technology in remembrance projects will keep young Canadians proud of all the country — and their communities — have sacrificed.

"Not very many young people understand it or know why things happened," said Brad Rains. "I think a lot more people need to open their eyes and open up as to why we have days like Remembrance Day, so then we can look back on our past and be proud as a community and as a country."