Robert Service

He reported from the front for the Toronto Star and wrote a book of mainly war poetry called The Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916.

Poet and novelist Robert Service served as an ambulance driver and stretcher-bearer. He reported from the front for the Toronto Star and wrote a book of mainly war poetry called The Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916. The book was dedicated to his brother, Lieutenant Albert Service, who was killed in action in August 1916.

After the war he lived mostly in France.

He’s best known for his poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

The following is a poem written and submitted by Bryan Vogler in tribute to Robert Service.

We Delivered Lille, France

My name is Robert Service and I’m reporting war stories from many European fields afar,
These stories are so vivid they were true to tell, and the Censor Board banned them from The Toronto Star,
Yet nobody would deny my truth, just if soldiers really knew they would not enlist to fight,
So it was those First World War orders that a publisher could not show the bloody truth in public sight.
This was not the “Alice May” where I wrote about the corpse and the “Cremation of Sam McGee”.
It was not my cozy cabin where my pen and paper created those poems and books that made a name for me.

I am finished my northern wandering, and got married and make France my home base,
It seems I left the Polar ice cap and took a detour and a job and here I report my First World War case,
Were forming the American Ambulance Service to help France bring back all their dead and lame.
Soon, “The Call” will come for allied troops including Canada to throw their bags on the trooper train.
My friends, France could not hold the line and her casualties for us few were too much to load and haul,
We were the first motorized ambulance service when we felt the spine shiver of The Great War Call.

All were hurled into unknown names of history as we sorted the staggering wounded from the dead,
And soon the tags and numbers would result in the telegram all families back home would fear and dread.
At first it was just the British who courageously crossed the channel to help France save face,
The King had sent his soldiers with their stuff and they marched proudly setting the intense pace,
They had not seen battles with pools of blood and the putrid smell of dead people lying there to rot,
It was hideous and there was no hiding the yells of pain from the front where the soldiers fought.

We had only started and Canadians thought we’d win by Christmas or New Year’s at least,
Then the boys would be at home with presents and help out in the Yuletide holiday and feast.
The words shell shocked and concussion became common but not seen on recruitment poster boards,
A thousand Germans in front to kill, and behind we picked up the dead awaiting a grave to be stored,
And we tried in vain my dearest to put injured soldiers together from the bullets and ballistic blast,
And throw them into an ambulance and get them to a sorting tent before their life had past.

Ah! The troop trains and ships did not stop, and the shrill steam whistles smoke left so far behind,
This is not the “The Law of the Yukon”, and descriptive poetic prose in a war is very hard to define,
Most were beyond identity when nurses and surgeons sorted the blimeys and war returns from the ambulance load,
These were all young Canadians who yesterday had gone to fight that marched so proud and bold,
For me the saddest day was when my brother Albert had his head blown off near a place called Somme,
He was helping the 52nd Manitoba near Ypres and I dreamt and saw our mother crying back at home,

A stretcher bearer can only take so much before fatigue from the war beckons the mind to a new plan,
And so I left it all to save my health and write my war verses in a book called, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.
During and after the war it became a best seller and my ambulance, “Dorothea” had been rendered obsolete,
Then I was offered a position by The Canadian Expeditionary Forces so in a Cadillac I took my comfort seat,
I had picked up the wounded and the dead and left soldiers a record of poetry that left them inspired,
And so the top Officers gave me a tour of France to show me I had been noticed and was publicly admired,

After the trip I was assigned to chase back the Germans as a member of the 5th Canadian Railway troops,
And it was in October 1918 we had a victory march and liberated Lille, France and I spoke for all the groups.
Canadians at Vimy Ridge had claimed her victory at a cost to both sides and finally the front line did fall,
A well awaited armistice and defeat of German forces is nothing but our history and timely recall,
Even me I have left this world years ago and I remind you of how Robert Service made his fate,
I walked under the Northern Lights and now walk on the other side and I hope you join me someday mate.

Do you have an ancestor who served in the Great War? Submit their story and it could be included on this Great War Album website.