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Issue 54 - A reluctant whisky hero? (Bill Smith Grant)

Whisky Magazine Issue 54
March 2006


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A reluctant whisky hero? (Bill Smith Grant)

Bill Smith Grant wasn't meant to inherit The Glenlivet. But as Iain Russell reports, his bold business decisions once he did revolutionised the whisky and made it famous

Bill Smith Grant didn't intend to become a distiller. His father, George, had stipulated in his will that Bill's elder brother John should inherit The Glenlivet Distillery on his 25th birthday, in March 1914. Bill was destined to farm a few hundred acres, or perhaps become ‘something in the city.' Then came the First World War…

Both John and Bill were officers in the Territorial Army, and they rushed to join their regiments when war was declared on Germany in August 1914. John became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Scots and fought in the trenches in France, before joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and rising to the rank of Flight Commander.

When he was wounded in action for a second time, in May 1918, he was sent to a military hospital at Doullens in France. He was undergoing surgery in the operating theatre when it was bombed by German aircraft, and he was killed along with the surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses who were tending to his wounds.

Bill served with the Gordon Highlanders on the Western Front, and was wounded in action in 1915. He returned to his unit and fought at the Battle of Arras in 1917, when he attacked an enemy machine gun nest and destroyed it with hand grenades.

He won the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty,” but he was seriously wounded in the engagement and invalided home. On his 25th birthday in 1921, Bill became proprietor of the distillery that had been founded by his great grandfather, George Smith, in...

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