Odette by Jerrard Tickell Headline Review, HK$128 The Honour and the Shame by John Kenneally Headline Review, HK$128 Boldness be my Friend by Richard Pape Headline Review, HK$128 Like all old soldiers, the heroes of the second world war are simply fading away, but their legend lives on, helped partly by publishers reinvigorating their backlists. Odette's biography was first published in 1949 and there is no doubting this exceptional woman's extraordinary gallantry. Despatched to occupied France to help the resistance movement, she was captured, interrogated by the Gestapo (who pulled out her toenails and seared her back with a hot iron), then consigned to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she managed to survive until the war ended. Written in the flush of victory, Jerrard Tickell's book verges on the jingoistic, perhaps forgiveably so, but it cries out for some up-to-date editing. References to pre-decimal currency and the Soviet Zone of Berlin require explanation, and stating that one of Odette's comrades was 'as gay as he was brave' does not convey quite the right impression nowadays. More importantly, the passage of half a century has shed new light on the workings of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the secret agents such as Odette whom it employed. It is now generally accepted that Odette was having an affair with Peter Churchill, her immediate superior in France, and that this probably led to their relaxing their vigilance and subsequent arrest. Tickell refers only obliquely to their relationship. And despite her conspicuous bravery, Odette's achievements in the field were negligible. That said, Odette's story is remarkable, not least for her being driven away from Ravensbruck in May 1945 by the Nazi commandant, who was under the impression she was related to Winston Churchill and hoped to save his own skin by delivering her safely to the Allies. She was awarded the George Cross, married Peter Churchill (though they divorced after nine years) and devoted much of the rest of her life to charitable work. John Kenneally's The Honour and the Shame is a much more straightforward tale of 'local boy makes good'. Born Leslie Jackson, the illegitimate son of a prostitute, he volunteered for the army, deserted after brawling, then signed on again under a false name and was posted to the Irish Guards. His regiment was shipped to Tunisia in March 1943 and found itself in action shortly after landing. Kenneally distinguished himself in battle and while his own description of the action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross paints the picture adequately, the official citation gives a truer rendition of his valour: 'His rapid appreciation of the situation, his initiative and extraordinary gallantry in attacking single-handed a massed body of the enemy and breaking up an attack on two occasions, was an achievement that can seldom have been equalled. His courage in fighting all day when wounded was an inspiration to all ranks.' Kenneally later sat for his portrait by the official war artist Captain H.M. Carr. His comment on the result gives some measure of this modest man: 'It took 12 days to complete ... I was not too thrilled; but it was hung in the Imperial War Museum for many years until they got bored with it.' Rather than bragging about his award, Kenneally concentrates more on the reaction of others; his mother - having scrimped and saved to give her son a decent education - was understandably proud, while the mayor of his home town was incensed that Kenneally didn't wear uniform to open a fete. Although without a drop of Irish blood in his veins, Kenneally was to become one of the most loyal Irish Guardsmen and was accorded the signal honour of presenting the shamrock to his regiment at the St Patrick's Day parade. As with so many wartime heroes he did not make much of a mark in civilian life in peacetime, though his autobiography - which he was prompted to write after his son was killed in a car accident - is a classic of the genre. Some conjecture surrounds Richard Pape's Boldness be my Friend. According to this obstreperous, red-headed Yorkshire journalist, he spent three years repeatedly trying to escape after his Stirling Bomber was shot down over Holland in September 1941. However, another former prisoner of war, Gordon Thomson Woodroofe - in his own tale of escape GeTaWay - surmised that Pape, a raconteur, had embroidered his book by incorporating tales of other PoWs' bids for freedom. Both men have taken their secrets to the grave. Whether Pape decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story is now a moot point; if nothing else, Boldness provides a gritty insight into life in the prisoner-of-war camps, whose inmates were ground down by boredom, cold, inadequate rations and all too frequent news of unfaithful wives at home. Some chose suicide as a way out and others turned informer to try to better their lot. Pape writes that he tried various methods of escape, from tunnelling under the wire to switching identity to fool his captors, to feigning illness. The third ruse, which included manufacturing a highly elaborate device to allow him to pass a fake urine sample, was apparently successful and he was repatriated, promptly took up flying again but crashed and was badly burned. He remarked later: 'I should never have flown again having got home in one piece.' Two years in hospital followed, under the direction of Archibald McIndoe, who pioneered the art of plastic surgery, and then Pape - after a minor battle with alcohol - set off on further adventures, notably establishing a Cheshire Home for mentally handicapped children in Papua New Guinea before settling in Australia. His fieriness, by his own admission, remained unabated and he returned his wartime medals to the queen after the Beatles were awarded the MBE in 1965. But of his work for the Cheshire Home he noted: 'At least I did something worthwhile and useful in the long run.'