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Mike Banks

Mountaineer and the oldest man to climb the Old Man of Hoy;

Born: December 22, 1922; Died: February 9, 2013.

Mike Banks, who has died aged 90, achieved the distinction of becoming the oldest man to climb Orkney's Old Man of Hoy. A difficult ascent, never mind at the age of 77, it was nonetheless a fairly tame adventure given his repertoire of extraordinary exploits.

A commando who credited the atom bomb with saving his life during the Second World War – he had been due to make a particularly hazardous amphibious landing in Burma when America unleashed its atomic firepower against the Japanese and ended the war – he went on to conquer some of the world's most inhospitable terrain.

He spent two years as a polar explorer on the British North Greenland Expedition, scaled the unclimbed Rakaposhi in the Himalayas, helped to lead an expedition to the Canadian Arctic, crossed a swathe of Australia's Great Victoria Desert and led several Saga-sponsored adventures, including to Tibet and India.

His was a spectacular career and one which also embraced writing – he was a journalist and the author of several climbing books – and an attempt to enter politics.

Born in Chippenham to engineer Humphrey Borg and his wife Elsie Millicent, he spent much of his childhood in Malta where his parents worked. Aged 14 he was sent home to his grandparents where he completed the remainder of his education.

At 19, and with the Second World War well under way, he was commissioned into the Royal Marines serving on the battleships Malaya and Valiant. It was during his subsequent posting to 3 Commando Brigade he was involved in the Burma campaign, taking part in coastal landings and engaging with the enemy in ruthless exchanges and brutal hand-to-hand bayonet fighting.

With the atomic bombs bringing an end to the war in the Far East, he continued his career in the forces, joining the Commando Cliff Assault Wing in 1948 and training on the cliffs of Cornwall. Promoted to captain, he was posted to the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve in Glasgow in 1950. That year he changed his name by deed poll, though quite why is not clear, abandoning Michael Edward Borg-Banks or Michael Edward Borg. Both are listed in his deed poll application.

Now known as Mike Banks, he chalked up an impressive array of expeditions. From 1952-54, he was part of the British North Greenland team, leading snow tractors across 800 miles of ice sheet, documenting the trip in his book High Arctic and receiving the Polar Medal.

He was later posted to 42 Commando and, after leading an unsuccessful 1956 ascent of Pakistan's 25,551ft Rakaposhi, returned two years later to conquer the peak with Scots mountaineer Tom Patey. His account of the expeditions, Rakaposhi, was published in 1959, the year he received the MBE and was promoted to major. Other books included Commando Climber and Snow Commando.

He returned to Greenland in 1966 for the Royal Navy East Greenland expedition and retired in 1968 after postings to Portsmouth, 45 Commando, Hong Kong and an exchange with US Marines.

He lived in the West Country where he became a journalist, stood unsuccessfully as an MP and led expeditions for Mountain Travel, a California-based adventure holiday company. In the 1970s he helped lead the Royal Navy Ellesmere Island expedition to the Canadian Arctic, recording his experiences in Summertime on Ellesmere Island.

Saga sponsored numerous expeditions led by Banks and, in 1990, backed his ascent of the Old Man of Hoy sea stack. He was 67. He repeated the feat again for charity, once more becoming, in 2000, the Oldest Man of Hoy, aged 77.

Almost 50 years earlier, as he prepared to set out with the North Greenland team, Winston Churchill told their leader: "You and the young men who are with you have embarked on a daring mission. The conception and purpose of your enterprise will appeal to the hearts of your fellow countrymen."

Half a century on, his daredevil attitude continued to elicit similar admiration among those with whom he served and climbed.

He was predeceased by his wife Pat, whom he married in 1955.

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