b. 14/04/1935 Blackheath, London. d. 01/07/1957 Grossglockner Mountain, Austria.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 01/07/1957 Grossglockner Mountain, Austria.
Michael Paul Benner (1935-1957), known as Paul, was born on 14th April 1935 in Blackheath, London, the son of Brigadier Paul and Mary Patricia Benner (nee O’Rorke). He was educated at Canford School, Wimborne, Dorset (leaving in 1953), the University of London, and Merton College, Oxford, where he excelled in languages. He was also an excellent all-round sportsman but became interested in mountaineering from a young age. After leaving Canford, he spent time in the Bavarian Mountains before going to read German at London University.
Then whilst he was a student at London, he climbed in Switzerland, North Wales and Scotland. When he arrived at Merton College, Oxford, he joined the rowing team, and this did affect his studies. Paul would then disappear during his vacations to go climbing, venturing further afield to the Middle East. When he left Oxford, he requested an accelerated call-up for his National Service but there was a delay, so he decided to find employment to pay off debts. He found two jobs – by day, he was a steel erector’s mate, and by night, a barman.
When he was finally called up, he chose his father’s old Regiment, the Corps of Royal Engineers, and was posted to a Field Regiment in Germany. He soon earned a reputation of being a young man with outstanding prospects being described by his Squadron Commander as “the best junior officer who had ever passed through his hands”.
On 1st July 1957, he was in command of a party of Non-Commissioned Officers and other ranks undergoing mountain training in Austria. They had reached the summit of Grossglockner Mountain by 6pm but a storm had caused delays and made conditions unexpectedly difficult. On the descent Sapper Phillips missed his footing and began to slide down a fairly steep snow slope. Seeing this, Benner jumped out of his own secure foothold on to the open slope and caught the falling man, holding him with one hand and trying with the other to dig his ice axe into the snow, but he could not do this. Both men slid down the slope and disappeared over the steep face of the mountain. In making his attempt to intercept Phillips, this gallant officer took, as he well knew, a desperate risk. As the two men gathered speed down the slope, he could have saved himself by letting go, but he held on to the last.
Benner was buried in the churchyard of St Rupert in the village of Kals, Austria. After 20 years all the headstones were removed and his name was inscribed on the memorial panels in a corner of the churchyard. There is also a memorial plaque to him at Merton College in Oxford. He was awarded a posthumous George Cross (London Gazette 17th June 1958), which was presented to his parents. Sadly his medal was later stolen and has not been recovered.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STOLEN.
BURIAL PLACE: ST RUPERT CHURCHYARD, KALS, AUSTRIA. NAMED ON PANEL.