Wait for me, Daddy
Canada had been at war for over a year and still the men of the The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles) waited to be called up for service. Finally in 1940 the order came down and the men marched through New West Minister to a waiting train to take them overseas. As the men marched, one little boy seeing his father ran out onto the street and was quickly chased by his mother. Photographer Claude P. Dettloff was already to take a picture of the hundreds of BC boys going off to war when Warren “Whitey” Bernard ran into his picture. With a click Dettloff took one of the defining Canadian pictures of World War II.
The Bernard family was at that time living in Vancouver near Queen Elizabeth Park. Five year-old Warren “Whitey” Bernard was in Grade 1 at nearby General Wolfe Elementary (His mother had lied about his age to get him in). Whitey’s Dad was enlisted in the British Columbia Regiment and was stationed in the city on various sentry points throughout the city. Since the declaration of war in 1939 the men of the BC regiment had been doing various guard duty assignments which were boring and monotonous. One of the most exciting events occurred when a bored sentry at the Jerrico Air Base fired his weapon into the ground and then informed his superiors that he was shot at. Worried about German saboteurs guard duty was doubled, especially after an expert from Ottawa was sent in to investigate; after careful study he declared it to be 9mm German slug. The base would have remained on high alert if a suspicious Lt Neil Pattullo hadn’t coaxed out the “true” story out of the sentry.
Finally after months of waiting the regiment received word that it was to be moving to a secret destination “Overseas.” As the troops marched to a waiting train to take them to their next destination photographer Claude P. Dettloff snapped the photo standing at the Columbia St crossing as the men marched down Eighth Street in New Westminster, Canada.
Whitey doesn’t remember running on to the street or getting his picture taken but he does remember the next day when after the picture was published in the Province Newspaper he became the most famous kid in Vancouver. As other newspapers picked up the photo he soon became the most famous child in Canada. The small Whitey was even enlisted to sell war bonds. In an interview years later he remembered that the war bond drives were quite fun.
They were six weeks long, and so I had to be excused from school. They had entertainers and put on shows. I remember meeting Edgar Bergen and ‘talking’ to his dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, and there were local entertainers, too: Barney Potts, Thora Anders, Pat Morgan, and I’d come out at the end in front of a big blowup of the picture with a fellow dressed up as my dad. I’d stand there in my dressy blue blazer and short grey pants, they put me in short pants, and give a little speech, and I’d end by asking everyone to buy war bonds to help Bring My Daddy Home. That got everyone all misty-eyed and they’d rush up to buy bonds.
His future wife, Ruby, fondly recalls that she had actually known her husband for years. Whitey’s photo “was hung in every school in B.C. during the war,” she said. “I saw him years and years before we actually met.”
As for his Dad, Pte. Jack Bernard, the secret “overseas” location turned out to be the Camp Nanaimo base only a few hours away on Vancouver Island. The regiment spent time on the coast defending against German and then Japanese attack. It wasn’t until August, 1942 that the bulk of the Regiment sailed for England. They didn’t see action until July 23 1944 when they landed at the established D-Day beach head and participated in Operation Totalize, one of the first attempts to close the Falaise Gap. After the Allies had crushed the German Army groups based in France they with the rest of Allies harassed the retreating Germans all the way to Holland. There the regiment took part in a number of operations in Holland and in Northern Germany. The last battle they took part in was on April 17, 1945 when they crossed the Kusten Canal. A month later Victory in Europe day (VE-Day) was declared on May 5, 1945. Through out the war the Regiment had 122 Officers and men killed and 213 wounded.
After the War
Whitey’s dad survived the European theatre and came home in October 1945. One causality of the war was Whitey’s parents marriage; as Jack and Bernice Bernard eventually divorced. Whitey grew up and moved to Tofino and met and married his wife Ruby in 1964. He ran a small marina that sold hardware and gas before getting involved in local politics. He was elected an alderman then was major for several years before becoming a councillor. He’s now retired but his son, Steven Bernard, still runs the family marina.