Robert Service


Reward dear Lord
Thy weary son
May he be blest
With peace and rest
For wake again

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



Robert Services' 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.

Robert Service

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 jag-time tune;
Back at the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

From The Shooting of Dan McGrew


Robert Service website






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