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Don't be a Hero

Short Story (4675 words)


The setting is Italy. James Burke, a former surgeon turned journalist owing to an injury to his hand suffered in the war, is called on to perform emergency surgery on the wife of an outlaw in a remote village, though he doubts whether he has the ability any longer. The character of the outlaw is based on the real-life figure of Salvatore Giuliano, who was shot in controversial circumstances in 1950.

This story appeared in the American journal Argosy in February 1951 and was reprinted in the small-format British magazine Magpie in August 1951.

Included in the discontinued collection Italy and the Balkans, ed. John Higgins

Argosy also published this introduction:

We wrote to Victor Canning in England about his story "Don't be a hero".

"The dificulty about a story when it's finished," he said in his reply, "is to tell just where truth ends and fiction begins There are a lot of people who came out of the war feeling sorry for themselves instead of sorry for the ones who didn't come out. The war set us all back. and most of us have enough common sense to make the best of what is left to us. If self-pity is stronger than common sense, then the only hope left is a good jolt when you are least expecting it. That's what happened to James Burke, and between ourselves I think he was lucky."

Canning has written 18 novels since his first was published in 1934. A major in the Royal Artillery, he served in the British First and Eighth Armies in Africa, Italy and Austria: and near the end of the war in a mysterious combined English and American unit under General Mark Clark. He lives now in an old Tudor cottage in Kent. and raises hens, golden cocker spaniels and cabbage. The cabbages, he says, do best.