Classic Canadian WWII photo to be immortalized in sculpture

Steve Mertl
Classic Canadian WWII photo to be immortalized in sculpture

It is one of the most famous Canadian photos of the Second World War and now it will be immortalized in bronze.

"Wait for Me, Daddy" doesn't show a bloody battle scene or the devastation wrought by conflict. In some ways it's quintessentially Canadian, displaying an epic sweep and touching intimacy at the same time.

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The day is Oct. 1, 1940, and Private Jack Bernard of Vancouver is marching off to war with his regiment through the streets of New Westminster, B.C., to board a ship that would take them for training on Vancouver Island. Later they would sail to Europe and take part in the Normandy Invasion.

Bernard's wife, Bernice and their five-year-old son Warren came along to see him off. But as the long line of troops marched through downtown New Westminster, the boy whose shock of white-blond hair earned him the lifelong nickname "Whitey," slipped his mothers grasp and ran after his dad, hand outstretched.

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"I wanted to go with Dad," Whitey Bernard, who now lives in Tofino, B.C., recalled for CBC News. "I wanted to be with Dad. I guess I had it in my mind that this was it."

The moment was captured by Vancouver Province photographer Claude Dettloff and, to put it in 21st-century terms, it went viral. It was picked up by other newspapers in Canada and the United States, was Life magazine's photo of the week and also reproduced in Time, Newsweek, Reader's Digest and Liberty.

It also inspired the public relations brains in the military, Bernard told Vancouver historian Chuck Davis.

“They were holding war bond drives and they asked Mom for permission to include me in some of them," he said. "They were six weeks long, and so I had to be excused from school."

After some entertainment, Whitey would come out, accompanied by a man dressed as a soldier. Standing in front of a huge blowup of the now iconic photo, Whitey gave a little speech.

"I'd end by asking everyone to buy war bonds to help bring my daddy home," he recalled for Davis. "That got everyone all misty-eyed and they'd rush up to buy bonds.”

His father did indeed come home in October 1945 and Dettloff, now the Province's chief photographer, was there to capture the reunion at the railway station.

Now the City of New Westminster is commemorating the 1940 event with a life-size bronze statue only a few steps from the spot where the photo was taken.

“The ‘Wait For Me, Daddy’ photograph holds not only tremendous historical significance to New Westminster, but also to the rest of Canada, as it depicts the emotional connection between father and son and the struggle that ensues when leaving to do one’s duty in the armed forces,” New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright told the Province.

“We are extremely proud that this important photograph will be immortalized in our city.”

The city commissioned the husband and wife team of Edwin and Veronica Dam de Nogales, based in Barcelona, Spain, to create statute. The couple — she's Spanish, he's Canadian — have done a number of other public monuments.

"The challenge is to re-create a work that is as powerful as the photograph, but in the sense that we're re-addressing it into a new time period," Edwin Dam de Nogales told CBC News.

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Although the precise details of the sculpture haven't been revealed, CBC News said it learned the work will feature three figures showing Whitey and his father and mother.

The city plans to unveil the statue in 2014 and the following year re-enact the soldiers' march down hilly Eighth Street to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Coun. Lorrie Williams said.

"We want to try to get the whole area declared a historic site, because there are not many military historic sites on the West Coast," Williams told CBC News.

Whitey Bernard, who served as a city councillor and mayor of Tofino for several years, said he's looking forward to seeing that important moment in his life re-created.

"It's the picture that has the emotion," he said. "It happened just like you see it."