Robert W Service is buried in the cemetery at Lancieux,
a small town on the north coast of Brittany, France.
Grave of Robert Service
© Ian Williams
Birthplace in Preston © Ian Williams
Service was born in Preston in 1874, but within a year
his Scottish parents returned to Glasgow and his
childhood was divided between here and his aunt’s post
office in Kilwinning, Ayrshire.
Service was unable to settle. At age 22 he qualified as
a bank clerk but two weeks later left for America where
he drifted for a couple of years before accepting a job
with the Commercial Bank of Canada in Victoria, BC. He
soon arranged a transfer to the remote outpost of
Whitehorse, Yukon, where he wrote The Shooting of Dan
McGrew, the poem that made him famous.
The Klondike Gold Rush inspired much of his early work –
notably Trail of Ninety-Eight – and royalties
allowed him to travel widely, although he was constantly
drawn back to the Canadian Far North and earned the
title “Bard of the Yukon”.
During WW1, he served as an ambulance driver on the
French front line, source of arguably his most moving
work, and while employed in France as a reporter for the
Toronto Star he fell in love both with his future wife,
Germaine Bourgoin, and with a house in Lancieux, Dream
Haven. Although he never truly settled, these two became
his points of reference.
There is much debate surrounding the literary merit of
Service’s work and he has described himself as “...just
a writer of verse.” In 1955 he commented: “I may be the
only living writer to have made more than $1,000,000 out
of writing verse.” He was possibly the highest paid poet
in the English language, writing 12 books of verse, six
novels and a philosophical treatise, Why Not Grow
Young? He appeared in a film, The Spoilers,
playing himself alongside Marlene Dietrich.
On the afternoon of 11th September 1958, with Germaine
at his side at their other home in Monte Carlo, what he
had often described as his ‘conky heart’ gave out.
(Text copyright Ian Williams)
A bunch of the boys were whooping
it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a
Back at the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady
that's known as Lou.
From The Shooting of Dan McGrew