Seeing his father in a long line of soldiers marching off to war, a little, white haired boy went running after his dad, struggling to reach the soldier’s outstretched hand.
That single, heartwarming moment in time was captured on film by The Province newspaper photographer Claude P. Dettloff on Oct. 1, 1940 and was published the following day.
Warren “Whitey” Bernard was that young boy who had just escaped the grasp of his mother Bernice (seen running behind him) to get to his father Jack who had switched his rifle to his left hand.
The family had just moved to the coast from their home in Summerland after Jack enlisted as a private in the British Columbia Regiment, Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles, “the Dukes.”
Bernard, 81, who has lived most of his life in Tofino, doesn’t specifically recall that day on 8th Street in New Westminster, but that picture, tagged Wait for me Daddy, would forever change his life.
“I do remember the next day the neighbours came rushing over and there was the picture on the front page and in those days being in the paper was like being on TV,” said Bernard who is in Penticton this week. “That was a momentary event but then it got sold to Life magazine as the picture of the week and the next thing it was hanging in schools and Legions everywhere.”
The power of the image has not diminished since it was taken nearly eight decades ago. In 2014 the City of New Westminster commissioned a bronze statue commemorating it at 8th Street in Hyack Square.
At the same time three coins were issued by the Royal Canadian Mint featuring an adapted image along with a Canada Post stamp.
When asked about the strong impact of the photo this many years later, Bernard replied: “I think people absolutely relate to it because it’s family, it’s separation and that’s what really makes it what it is.
“Even the hardest case (person) sort of looks at it and goes ‘awww.’ He (Dettloff) really caught the moment, it is what it is, and what you see is real, these are real people in their lives.”
Bernard is one of 26 contributors to Penticton’s Gary Doi’s fourth publication in the Inspiring Hope Book Series, In the Moment. Proceeds of which go to the Children’s Wish Foundation.
It is a collection of stories and photos which relate to certain times in a person’s life and the impact they have in those lives afterwards.
“This photograph symbolizes familial and patriotic love in a way that few other photographs have ever done. Now we have the real story behind the picture from Whitey Bernard himself,” said Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defence in a cover review of the story.
A couple of years after the photo appeared, Bernard was recruited as the “poster boy” for the sale of Victory (war) Bonds to help fund military operations.
What that really meant to him was six weeks off school at the time.
“Which I didn’t mind a bit, going to war plants to convince employees to sign up,” he said. “So I was paraded around to these plants. There were the Boeings and in North Vancouver they were building liberty ships and put on these song-and-dance shows,” said Bernard. “When the show ended they would unveil me with the huge ‘Wait for Me Daddy’ picture and I would make this real tear jerker speech: ‘you buy a bond today and bring my daddy home and for all the other boys and girls.’ Then they’d put us in these army trucks and drive us to the next place.”
For Bernice and her son, life in the big city was very difficult as she struggled to cope with being a single mom and working full time.
At one point a children’s aid society worker threatened to remove Whitey from his mom’s care.
“We moved around a lot and there weren’t babysitters, so I had to look after myself,” said Bernard. “I think for my personal life it made me a hell of a lot more independent than maybe I should have been at my age, but I never looked back.”
He also remembered seeing the tears in his mother’s eyes some days as she read the war casualties list in the newspaper and saw a name from “home.”
“Mom was born in Keremeos and raised in Penticton and, of course, there was a big enlistment here. I think Summerland had the highest enlistment per capita of any town in Canada and everybody knew everybody,” said Bernard.
However there was something he always enjoyed each summer, those trips back to the Okanagan.
“That was the saving grace. Starting when I was seven, as soon as school was out, mom would put me on the old KVR Railroad in Vancouver by myself with just a name tag,” said Bernard. “Then she’d look around the station to see if there was anyone from home, Penticton or Summerland, and say to them, ‘keep an eye on Grip’ which was my nickname, although I never found out why.”
In 1945 Bernard’s fears his dad would never come back from battle were erased as the pair once again got to hug each other upon Jack’s return.
“That was the happiest day in my 10-year-old life,” he recalled, adding the pair regularly communicated by letter during their time apart. But the homecoming was bittersweet.
“Dad was battle fatigued and was not in good shape, he was a bit of a wreck and the marriage didn’t survive and both of them remarried and life went on,” said Bernard. “That’s the other thing about Wait for Me Daddy, it is the last photograph of us together as a true family.”
Looking back on his life with his own family, his successful businesses and time as councillor and mayor of Tofino, Bernard is satisfied.
He wrote about that moment in time that has followed him throughout these many years:
“As for me, well I am just grateful. I’m grateful to everyone for keeping the memory alive. In many ways Wait For Me Daddy is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
“The image is a heartfelt reminder of the human cost of war on families and loved ones, at home and abroad, a lesson I learned far too early in life when I was just a young, white-haired boy.”
There will be a special book signing Sept. 10 at GardenWorks Penticton with In the Moment creator Doi, and contributors Scott Austin and Ivan McLelland. Books are available at Coles (Penticton) Dragon’s Den and the Penticton Art Gallery.