Robert Service was born in Lancashire and spent most of his youth in Scotland, but is often called ‘the Bard of the Yukon’. He travelled to Canada when he was 21 and held down a number of jobs before joing the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1903; a year later he was transferred to the Whitehorse branch in the Yukon.
His first collection of poems, Songs of a Sourdough, was published in 1907, becoming an immediate success. By 1909 he was successful enough to leave the bank. From 1912 to 1913 he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars. Service was 41 when the First World War broke out: he briefly covered the war for the Toronto Star then worked as a stretcher-bearer and ambulance driver with the American Red Cross until his health broke. Convalescing in Paris he wrote a new book of mainly war poetry, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916. The book was dedicated to his brother, Albert, who had been killed in action in France in August 1916.