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Whitey Bernard reflects on iconic war photo ‘Wait for me, Daddy’

Tofino local says the novel coronavirus is quite similar to growing up in Vancouver during wartime
Standing in his ‘Relative Room’, Whitey Bernard proudly holds up the limited edition stamps and commemorative coin created to remember the famous war photo “Wait for me, Daddy”. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Tofino’s Warren ‘Whitey’ Bernard turned 85 on September 15. It’s been 80 years since the Province photojournalist Claude P. Dettloff snapped ‘Wait for me, Daddy’, the photo that would catapult Bernard into the role of poster boy for the Second World War.

On Oct. 4, 1940, Dettloff was focusing his camera on a line of soldiers of the B.C. Regiments marching down Eighth Street in New Westminster when suddenly a young boy rushing towards his father appears in-front of his lens. Click.

“See the way the soldiers are carrying their riffles? And see how my dad has switched to take the riffle in the other hand to reach out for me?” Bernard points to the fair-haired five-year-old boy in the old photograph hanging prominently in his home.

“Wait for me, Daddy” became one of the most famous war photographs of all time.

The photo was immortalized as a limited edition stamp, a commemorative toonie, and a war memorial in the Historic District of New Westminster.

From his home office overlooking the Tofino Inlet, Bernard professes he is trying to write a book. He thumbs through a large stack of papers on his desk and confesses he wouldn’t be able to seriously take on the feat without help from his wife Ruby and a publisher before diving into memories of his dad, Sergeant Jack Bernard.

“He used to tell me a story about the guns from the big, huge battle ships shooting towards shore. I thought they just did that on D-Day. I never could connect his story about what happened because he never talked about it,” Bernard recalls.

“So anyways, I got his records,” notes Bernard tapping on his manuscript. “He landed in Normandy on July 4, 1944 and went straight into action.”

Sergeant Jack Bernard fought in the Second Canadian Armour Brigade, which was authorized to act independently of the Canadian Armour Brigade. Bernard said his dad’s side of the family had many veterans, including his Uncle Joe, a member of the B.C. Regiment, who was also seen marching in the iconic photo.

“Of course, I’ve got all his history too. My dad and Joe lived in Vancouver after the war,” Bernard said. His dad passed away in 1981 at the age of 74.

“The war now isn’t about remembering the battles and the risk these guys took and all the rest of it, it’s about remembering what they did and what they actually accomplished. Canada had a lot bigger role than a lot of historians give our country credit for,” he said.

Remembrance Day turnouts in Tofino and Ucluelet have gotten bigger and bigger over the years, notes Bernard.

“It’s been really great to see. The schools have done a great job of keeping it alive over the years. You’re doing this without any veterans that were in the shooting war. There are very few of them. They’re all gone… And of course the First World War, the guys are all gone too,” he said.

He expressed concerns for the Royal Canadian Legion and the role they play in safeguarding the memory of our veterans.

“I don’t know who will do that because Legions are failing across the country. And most Legions are failing because they don’t have the executive to run it. It’s a 100 per cent volunteer organization,” Bernard said.

Bernard sees similarities between our battle with the novel coronavirus and growing up in Vancouver during the war.

“In a way this Covid thing is quite similar during wartime when they had black outs in Vancouver and we had food rationing and all this sort of stuff,” he said.

“People did what they were told. In school, we were told how to get under your desk. You don’t cry and raise hell and say you don’t want to do it. I guess if I heard this once I heard it a million times from my mother Bernice, ‘Don’t’ you know there’s a war on?’” recalls Bernard.

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READ: Honouring veterans in a pandemic: COVID-19 put Legions at risk of closure

READ: Tofino local retraces Canadian Army’s footsteps through Europe

READ: ‘Wait for me, Daddy’ in Whitey’s words