Warren “Whitey” Bernard knows each grain of the famous photograph. People never stop wanting to talk to him about the “Wait for me Daddy” photo taken 70 years ago.
Often they ask him to recount the exact moment it was taken and what he was thinking.
For that he relies on the news accounts of the day because, to be honest, Whitey doesn’t remember much from the moment. After all, the 75-year-old was just five at the time.
Whitey got the day off school so he could watch his father Jack march off to war with the rest of the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles. The reserve regiment had been called into duty and marched down Eighth Street to a train station to board a train taking them to a secret destination for training.
When his dad marched past, the anxious boy escaped the grasp of his mom’s hand and reached out to his father, who turned and stretched out his hand to his son’s.
Province newspaper photographer Claud Detloff froze that moment in time.
Today many seniors can still relate to Whitey and the photo because they understand its significance during the Second World War. It was a photo flashed around the world in newspapers and magazines and came to symbolize Canada’s war effort.
The photo spoke of Canadians heading off to war and the sacrifice they would make. It also reminds them of those left at home and how they contributed to the war effort so the soldiers, sailors and pilots could return home safely and quickly.
But back then Whitey only understood being in the photo earned him lots of attention and permission to skip school.
The Canadian government recruited him to sell war bonds and he travelled across the country as part of the campaign, which included comedians and musical acts. The “Wait for me Daddy” boy was part of the closing act that tugged at people’s heartstrings, compelling them to buy war bonds.
That’s when he started to realize the power of the photo.
“During the war the photo was everywhere. Every school classroom in Canada had a copy of it mounted on a wall,” says Whitey, who has lived in Tofino since 1964 and was once the town’s mayor.
“I still get letters and emails about it. People tell me their father was marching in the photo.”
Whitey says the children he speaks to today about the photo, usually around Remembrance Day, can also relate to the image.
Probably because the little boy is close to their age.
It could have been them grasping for their father’s hand if they had lived then.
“I’ve spoke to a lot of elementary school classes about the photo. I give the kids a talk so they know to remember the sacrifices that were made and how it’s made the country what it is today,” says Whitey.
He finds it strange the photo is receiving more attention these days. In part it’s because Oct. 1 marked 70 years since the photo was taken, and the City of New Westminster plans to create a piece of public art to pay homage to its significance to the city.
Whitey doesn’t mind that idea, as long as its done for the right reasons.
He stress one thing, though: the photo has never been about him.
“The picture tells the story of a man leaving his wife and family to go off to war for five years and fight for his country. My dad saw action when he was over there,” he says.
“Those guys are the ones that should be remembered when people look at the picture.”