It was an emotional moment, captured on film, when five-year-old Warren Bernard bolted from his mother’s side and reached for the outstretched hand of his war-bound father in October 1940, and it will soon be preserved in a public memorial in New Westminster, B.C.
Metro Vancouver announced Wednesday it has selected artists Veronica and Edwin Dam de Nogales to create a bronze memorial based on the famous photo, “Wait for me, Daddy,” taken by The Province newspaper photographer Claude Dettloff.
Canada Post plans to issue a commemorative stamp in 2014, and one New Westminster councillor said she hopes to also preserve the event through a commemorative coin, a National Historic Site designation, and even a visit by royalty.
Amidst the whirlwind of publicity, Mr. Bernard, now a 78-year-old resident of the Vancouver Island community of Tofino, B.C., said he’s still “just the kid in the picture,” and was concerned about one thing when Mr. Dettloff released his camera’s shutter.
“I probably wasn’t thinking too much other than getting close to my dad,” he said. “I had, you know, a fair experience of people going away to join up, as they called it in those days, to, you know, join up, to get in the army, get into the services.”
Mr. Bernard said he remembers the day well. It was Oct. 1, 1940, the Second World War was well underway, and he and his mother, Bernice, had followed his enlisted father, Jack, to Vancouver from the Okanagan community of Summerland.
Mr. Bernard was in New Westminster with his mother and grandfather to see his father march down Eighth Street with members of the British Columbia Regiment. The unit was on its way by ship to an army camp in Nanaimo, B.C.
After spending time in a park, Mr. Bernard said his family walked down the hill, following the line of soldiers.
But near the intersection of Eighth and Columbia streets, Mr. Bernard broke from his mother’s side to chase his dad and was immortalized on film, Mr. Bernard reaching forward, his father stretching back, while other soldiers along the line smiled.
Weeks after Mr. Dettloff’s image was published, it was featured in Life magazine.
The present-day location is known as Hyack Square and is the designated spot for the memorial.
Mr. Bernard said he was 10 years old when his father returned from battle and learned his parents’ marriage was over, noting his mother was mad at his dad for joining up because he was 32 years old and didn’t have to go to war.
“I can remember the day that grandpa came to get me to take me down to the station. And I said to my mom, ‘when dad comes home where’s he going to sleep?’ and she says, ‘I don’t know. The son of a bitch isn’t sleeping here.”
The husband-and-wife artistic team chosen to create the sculpture are internationally renowned, have had works publicly displayed in Europe and North America, and said they’re honoured to have been picked.
“Any sculpture of this size and of this importance, puts a lot more stress on one so to speak because so many people will be responding to it,” said Edwin Dam in a phone interview from Spain. “I guess in some ways you always get a little nervous when that happens.”
He said the piece will have contemporary and historic elements and stands well in its place, and one of the major materials is bronze, although the piece is not solely in the metal.
“I think we want to keep the element of surprise,” added Veronica de Nogales Leprevost. “It seems to be quite important to most people in the community, so we want to respect that.”
Lorrie Williams, the New Westminster councillor who forged the memorial idea, said the project will cost the city about $300,000.
“It’s such an emotive picture,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful picture, and the fact that daddy came home helps a lot. And it’s so famous that we sort of want to share it with not only our own citizens but with the rest of Canada and maybe even the world.”
Ms. Williams said Mr. Bernard will unveil the memorial in October 2014.
However, Ms. Williams said she also wants a commemorative coin issued, and plans are underway to re-enact the historic march down Eighth Street, which could happen in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. She said the city also wants to ask members of the British and Dutch royal families to visit the memorial.
Mr. Bernard said he’s seen the proposal and he supports the plans.
“It’s pretty impressive to be cast in bronze, even if you’re only five years old,” added a chuckling Mr. Bernard.