Linde McGregor was the very definition of the words fearless and feisty: she was daunted by nothing. That she lived such a long and extraordinarily colourful life is no doubt due in part to that personality – and even more remarkable given her experience at the hands of the Nazis in her German homeland.
Sent to a notorious farming boarding school, she became one of the Wehrmacht’s Bereiterinnen, young women who broke in cavalry horses. She later survived imprisonment for denouncing Hitler, went on to marry a Scotsman and retained a love of horses that led to her riding out with the Queen.
In widowhood she became involved in the business of exporting Highland cattle and travelled widely on charity work for the Order of St Lazarus which made her a Dame in recognition of her fundraising for research into a cure for leprosy.
The daughter of a German army colonel who was also the Duke of Mecklenburg’s factor, she was born one of a family of four, in Luebstorf, Mecklenburg, in the far north-east of Germany. Her brother and two sisters were educated at various schools: in Schwerin in Mecklenburg, in Hamburg and also in Luebeck in Schleswig Holstein. In 1937, her father took a lease of a large house in St Johannes Kloster Schleswig, a convent near the Danish border, and in 1939 the whole family moved there in the hope they would be safer further west. She went to finishing school in Rostock, but in 1938 Linde and her elder sister Inge, were sent to the Landfrauenschule, near Malchow in Mecklenburg.
After the Second World War broke out, the area was designated part of Pomerania by the Nazis who would later extend part of the Ravensbruck concentration camp to Malchow. In Mecklenburg, the 19-year-old Linde was enlisted in the war effort and became involved in breaking in mounts for German cavalry officers.
The German army relied heavily on horses and is thought to have used some 2.75 million horses and mules in the course of the war. As a soldier’s daughter she was the perfect recruit to the ranks of the women who relieved the officers and other male troops who previously trained the mounts but now, thanks to the female horsebreakers, were freed up for frontline duties.
At some point in her service she was jailed for denouncing Hitler and it required the intervention of her father before she was released. Her imprisonment left her with some psychological damage but she recuperated with an aunt in Herzefeld, north of Berlin, and returned to her duties. Later, as the war drew to a close with the Red Army advancing and German surrender not far off, her commanding officer ordered her and her colleagues to gather as many horses as possible and ride them to the south of Germany. The aim was to remove the animals from the encroaching Russian forces and the young women successfully completed their mission.
Having arrived safely, their commanding officer, who had broken his orders, ascended a hill and killed himself. Linde and a friend immediately got on their horses and rode north to Schleswig, a dangerous expedition of more than 800km which would have taken several weeks. There, post-war, she looked after her widowed mother.
But she soon fell in love and within a couple of years would make her home in Edinburgh. She met her future husband Neill McGregor, an airman and a member of the occupying forces stationed in Germany after the war, when he was posted to the barracks in Schleswig, located next door to the Kloster.
Her new life began in Edinburgh where she and Neill, who later became an accountant with Cheyne and Tait, married in 1947. After a short spell in Leith they moved to Dean Terrace where she continued to live for many years after being widowed.
She and Neill had a son and daughter who would spend every summer with their mother in Schleswig. She and her two sisters – one had married a Welshman, the other an Englishman – returned to their birthplace shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a harrowing experience when they discovered their former home in a very dilapidated state.
In Scotland she had maintained her love of horses, teaching at Lasswade stables and riding with the Queen to Balmoral from the Spittal of Glenshee in the early 1950s.
Following Neill’s death in 1976 she enjoyed the company of the widowed Harry Borthwick, later to become Lord Borthwick, and together they exported Highland cattle, mostly to Germany. They also travelled extensively both for pleasure and on business for the charity the Order of St Lazarus of which Harry was the Grand Bailiwick of Scotland.
During her life in the Scottish capital she was also an active member of the German Church. She organised the collection of greenery every November to make advent wreaths for the annual Christmas bazaar and introduced a candle-lit Christmas tree into the church – a tradition that still stands today.
Always the first to welcome German newcomers to Edinburgh, she was on the hospitality list at the German Consulate and when German ships docked in Leith she would invite officers and cadets into her home for lunch followed by a tour of the sights of the city. In addition she was an active member of the University International Club, for which she organised German evenings of dancing, singing and food.
When her house in the New Town finally became too much for her she reluctantly moved to a care home but made several escape attempts – the most audacious saw her slip out undetected and make her way, without bus pass or money, to the Dean Terrace house which she opened up with a key she had kept concealed. She then proceeded to make coffee and take up her favourite position, on a chair outside the front door, so she could chat to passers-by.
A woman who knew no fear and always spoke her mind, she once exacted revenge on her son who failed to observe an annual family ritual of taking her out to supper on his birthday. She was in her 80s at the time and barged into his boardroom to confront him, unconcerned about the serious discussions taking place. She was wearing a full-sized white rabbit outfit and scattered the floor with Maltesers for good measure.
Her astonished son countered by rising from his chair and with a wave of his hand, declared: “Gentlemen, my mother.”
Mrs McGregor is survived by her son John, daughter Alexandra and four grandchildren.