Robert William Service was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1874. The Service family had lived in Kilwinning for many generations but his father had been sent south to work in Preston and his son was born there. When his father moved again to Glasgow, he sent Robert to live with his three aunts and grandfather John Service, postmaster in Kilwinning. The blue plaque is erected on the building where Robert lived as a youngster aged 5.
A few years later, Robert moved back with his parents, and joined the Commercial Bank at age 15. But he was soon bored, and the idea of being a ranch hand in Canada took him across the Atlantic in 1896. There, he worked in labouring and farm jobs in Canada, Mexico and California before going back to banking in Vancouver. Exploring the rugged countryside and rough towns inspired him to write what became his most famous poem, 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'. This made his name and his fortune and many more popular poems followed.
Using his wealth to travel around Europe writing occasional newspaper articles, he met and married his wife Germaine in Paris in 1913. When the First World War broke out he became a war correspondent and ambulance driver on the front lines, inspiring him to write a different, though powerful poetry.
He returned to Kilwinning in 1930, and erected a memorial to his grandparents in the grounds of the Abbey. This memorial can still be seen today.
At the outbreak of WWII, he moved his family to America's West Coast and, being a celebrity, was invited to join Hollywood stars in morale-boosting visits to US Army camps to recite his poems. He was also asked to play himself in the movie The Spoilers with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. After the war, he returned to France, enjoying the friendship of the rich and famous in Monte Carlo.
In 1958 while staying at his villa in Brittany, France, he died from complications from a severe bout of flu at the age of 84, the only poet to become a millionaire in his own lifetime.
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