Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II – Review

Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War IIPoachingFacts rating: 5 of 5 stars

The focus of Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II, written by Vicki Constantine Croke, is on the work and travels of James “Elephant Bill” Williams while in Burma, condensing Williams’ own book titled Elephant Bill and his personal reflections into a detailed, riveting narrative sprinkled with facts about Asian elephant behavior. Do not expect a full biography including Williams’ experiences in Europe during the First World War or any quotes or reflections from his post-Second World War years.

Yet Elephant Company presents a fascinating, touching, and at times heart-breaking narrative of J.H. Williams‘ experiences working with elephants in Burma (Myanmar) and makes for a compelling and rewarding read for a wide audience. Throughout the course of the book readers will get a first-hand account of life for colonial British in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the role of mahouts (elephant riders), and the way that Williams led a revolution in the treatment of work elephants. Croke does a stellar job of bringing Williams to life, providing relevant reflections in his own words, and also carefully crafting his relationship with the elephants and mahouts whom he held in such high regard.

The paperback and e-book/Kindle versions of Elephant Company offer some maps of Burma and regions relevant to the story and are important additions to achieving a comprehensive understanding of the scale of the efforts undertaken by Williams and the men he led. The audio-book version lacks these maps, but is narrated by Simon Prebble who does a fantastic job of lending a British tone to the story and giving an appropriate level of gravity to the narrative.

Further Reading:

Those interested in reading more about experiences with the tamed elephant Bandoola, so dear to Williams, may be interested in the book titled Bandoola by J.H. Williams himself. Individuals interested in learning about elephant behavior as observed by Williams in the 1930s and ’40s, as well as the horrendous treatment of captive elephants as they are broken for use as draft animals, will want to read Elephant Bill.

For another fascinating, real-life adventure story Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo makes an excellent companion to Elephant Company and relates the experiences of Lawrence Anthony as he sets off for war-torn Baghdad just as it falls to Coalition forces. The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence is highly recommended. Anthony recounts his experiences and success in providing a home to an elephant herd recently traumatized after having one of its members shot for being a “problem elephant.” The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures is Anthony’s third book and sheds light on the present rhinoceros conservation crisis, the rebel militias profiting from rhino poaching, and the way that the fate of the rhinoceros relates to the overall health of the environment.


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