Robert W. Service

1874 - 1958

Poet and author. Born in Preston (England) into a Scottish family, Service was brought up in Kilwinning and Glasgow. Educated at Hillhead High School and the University of Glasgow, he went on to work in a Glasgow shipping office, followed by the Stobcross branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland, before leaving for North America in 1894 to seek adventure. There, he worked on farms and in numerous other jobs before taking a position with the Canadian Bank of Commerce and spending eight years in the Yukon. It was during this time that he published his first collection, Songs of a Sourdough (1908), which included the doggerel poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. This brought both fame and fortune, and he soon left Canada to settle in France, where he married.

He served as a correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and was an ambulance driver and war correspondent during World War I. His war poems appear in Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man (1916), including a work in Scots, The Haggis of Private McPhee. Service spent World War II in Hollywood (USA), returning France at its close.

In total, he published more than forty-five collections containing over a thousand individual poems, six novels, including The Trail of '98 (1912) about the Klondike Gold Rush, and two autobiographical volumes, Ploughman of the Moon (1945) and Harper of Heaven (1948). Several of his works were adapted as films and he made a brief appearance with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne in The Spoilers (1942).

Service died in Lancieux (Brittany), where he lies buried. He is remembered as a social commentator, whose verse encapsulated humour, pathos, grief and wonder. He has been honoured by a plaque in Main Street, Kilwinning, where the house he lived in once stood and schools have been named after him in Alaska, Yukon and Toronto. He also appeared on a Canadian postage stamp in 1976.

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