Prose & Poetry - Robert Service

Robert Service Robert William Service (1874-1958) was a Canadian wartime correspondent, novelist and poet.

Service was born on 16 January 1874 in Preston, Lancashire the son of a Scottish bank clerk and English factory owner's daughter.  He lived in Scotland - and was educated at Glasgow University - until he was 22 - initially working in banking - before emigrating to Canada, initially working with his brother as a rancher for 18 months.

Service spent much time drifting across Canada and the U.S. and worked for a period with the Canadian Bank of Commerce.  It was while working for the bank that Service was posted to the Yukon Territory, a terrain that inspired him to begin writing Canadian frontier poetry.  His first collection was published as Songs of a Sourdough in 1907.

A prolific writer - and one who became known as "the Canadian Kipling", in spite of sneers from the literary establishment - Service also published The Spell of the Yukon in 1907.  Ballad of a Cheechako followed in 1909 and Rhymes of a Rolling Stone (an apt title) in 1913.  The Pretender followed in 1914.  He wrote a novel, The Trail of 98 - on conditions in the Alaskan Klondike - in 1910.

During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 Service accepted a position as a war journalist.  It was during this period that he met and married a Frenchwoman in Paris.  During the First World War he volunteered for service with an ambulance unit for two years before becoming a war correspondent for the Toronto Star.

Service's post-war career saw him continue to publish novels and poetry, and he continued to travel widely.  The onset of the Second World War found him in Poland; he escaped back to the U.S. where he settled in California, eventually returning to France after the war.

Service wrote two autobiographical novels, Ploughman of the Moon (1945) and Harper of Heaven (1948).

He died on 11 September 1958 in Lancieux aged 84.


My only medals are the scars
I've won in weary, peacetime wars,
A-fighting for my little brood,
To win them shelter, shoon and food;
But most of all to give them faith
In God's good mercy unto death.

My sons have medals gleaming bright,
Proud trophies won in foreign fight;
But though their crosses bravely shine,
My boys can show no wounds like mine -
Grim gashes dolorously healed,
And inner ailings unrevealed.

Life-lasting has my battle been,
My enemy a fierce machine;
And I am marked by many a blow
In conflict with a tireless foe,
Till warped and bent beneath the beat
Of life's unruth I own defeat.

Yet strip me bare and you will see
A worthy warrior I be;
Although no uniform I've worn,
By wounds of labour I am torn;
Leave the their ribbands and their stars...
Behold! I proudly prize my scars.

Britain introduced conscription for the first time on 2 February 1916.

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Prose & Poetry