In the midst of the tumultuous year 1940, a single photograph emerged as a symbol of love, sacrifice, and the enduring human spirit. This image, famously known as “Wait for Me, Daddy,” captured a fleeting moment on October 1, 1940, in New Westminster, Canada, as the world grappled with the ravages of World War II.
Photographed by Claude P. Dettloff, a lensman for The Province newspaper, the image showcased the marching soldiers of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles) as they descended Eighth Street at the intersection of Columbia Street. But at the heart of this powerful composition were the Bernard family – five-year-old Warren “Whitey” Bernard, his mother Bernice, and his father Jack Bernard, a soldier preparing to embark on a perilous journey.
The backdrop to this poignant moment was the war that had erupted in 1939, thrusting families apart as loved ones answered the call to defend their nation. Jack Bernard, a member of the British Columbia Regiment, had been stationed in the city, performing the tedious and monotonous guard duties that characterized the early stages of the war.
Months of anticipation finally culminated in the regiment’s orders to move “Overseas.” As the troops made their way to a waiting train for their mysterious destination, Dettloff readied himself to capture the historic moment. But what he hadn’t anticipated was the spontaneous dash of a young boy, Whitey Bernard, onto the road.
In an instant, Dettloff’s lens immortalized the dramatic scene: the outstretched hand of a mother, the swirling coat, the shock of Whitey’s white hair, and his tiny hand reaching out, all while Jack Bernard momentarily transferred his rifle to the other hand to grasp his son’s. In the background, a solemn procession of marching soldiers completed this masterpiece of unplanned composition, a heart-wrenching tableau preserved for eternity.
Dettloff’s photograph soon made its way around the globe, featured prominently in publications like Life magazine and displayed in schools across British Columbia during the war. The image became a poignant reminder of the sacrifices families made during these trying times.
Interestingly, the regiment’s secret destination turned out to be Nanaimo, a mere three-hour journey from New Westminster. They spent their time on the coast, vigilant against potential German and Japanese threats. It wasn’t until August 1942 that the bulk of the regiment sailed for England, and they only saw combat on July 23, 1944, during Operation Totalize, a crucial operation in closing the Falaise Gap.
Their journey continued as they pursued retreating German forces through Holland and Northern Germany, culminating in their participation in the final battle at the Kusten Canal on April 17, 1945. A month later, on May 5, 1945, Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day) was declared, marking the end of a harrowing chapter. Throughout the war, the regiment suffered 122 officers and men killed, with 213 wounded.
Amidst the backdrop of global upheaval, Whitey’s father returned home in October 1945. Tragically, the war had taken its toll on Jack and Bernice Bernard’s marriage, leading to their eventual divorce.
Whitey Bernard grew up and moved to Tofino, where he met and married Ruby in 1964. Remarkably, Ruby had known her future husband for years before their official meeting. Whitey went on to run a small marina, initially selling hardware and gas before venturing into local politics. He served as an alderman and then as mayor for several years before becoming a councilor. Today, he enjoys his well-deserved retirement, while his son, Steven Bernard, carries on the family legacy by managing the marina.
The enduring significance of this iconic photograph led the City of New Westminster to commission a bronze statue commemorating the moment. Placed at the bottom of 8th Street in Hyack Square, the statue was unveiled on October 4, 2014. The Royal Canadian Mint also paid tribute to this historical image by issuing a series of three coins, while Canada Post released a stamp featuring the iconic photograph. These gestures serve as a lasting testament to the enduring power of “Wait for Me, Daddy,” a photograph that transcends time and reminds us of the strength of love in the face of adversity.