When the all-out German bombardment of London, England, began in the summer of 1940, the famed poet Robert Service, his wife, Germaine, and daughter, Iris, boarded the Canadian Pacific ocean liner, the Princess Helene, and sailed to Canada.
The North Atlantic Ocean was filled with German submarines ready and willing to send commercial shipping to the bottom. The Service family arrived in Montreal safely, but shaken, on August 1, 1940, and began six years of exile while war raged throughout their beloved France.
The family travelled west by train to spend the war years in Vancouver. They moved into the Tudor Manor overlooking the Vancouver harbour, but Service soon tired of the constant rain. In December, 1940, he moved the family to Los Angeles, where he had worked as a labourer back in 1895.
He loved southern California and may have moved there, after leaving the Yukon, except that France had captured the wanderlust in his soul and had become his real dream haven.
In Los Angeles, as he neared seventy, Service continued his strict regimen of exercise. He enjoyed endless walks through the Hollywood hills, just as he had relished the same routine during his eight years in the Yukon.
When the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, the United States became a full participant in the Second World War. Service, who had many friends in the Hollywood Writer's Association, was recruited to help in the war effort.
He toured military bases throughout the southwestern United States, reciting his famous poems during USO concerts.
In 1942, Service became a movie actor with a minor role in the screen adaptation of the Rex Beach novel, The Spoilers. The rough-and-tumble motion picture that starred John Wayne and Randolf Scott was set in Alaska. The director came up with the clever idea of having Service play himself in a scene with the film's leading lady, the great Marlene Dietrich.
In a barroom, Service sat alone at a table writing, as Dietrich walked by. He carried on a brief, on camera, twenty-three word exchange with Dietrich, and his role in the motion picture was complete.
In April 1942, the Canadian Red Cross announced it was launching a drive to raise funds for the war effort. Their first donation was a cheque for $240 from Robert Service.
The accompanying note to the society read:
"As play acting is not my regular line, I do not wish to earn money in this way, and I am donating it to the Canadian Red Cross."
The money was the fee Robert Service had received from Universal Pictures for his role in the motion picture, The Spoilers.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin