If you’ve read my reviews in the past you know that a number of those included books about animals. I’ve covered cats, dogs, bears, apes, even owls. Elephants get their turn in the spotlight this time. Actually I wrote a review six years ago with elephants at the heart of the story, but because I admire and marvel at these magnificent creatures I couldn’t resist sharing another elephant tale with you.
Vicki Constantine Croke’s gripping book chronicles the riveting life of James Howard “Billy” Williams. In 1942 Williams was called upon to join the British elite Force 136 with a mission to organize and lead a company of elephants in Burma after its invasion by Imperial Japanese forces. Prior to World War II, Williams enjoyed a 20-year career as a “forest man” for the Bombay Burmah Teak Company in colonial Burma. His work took him on a circuit of jungle camps where he supervised the local workers and cared for the health and medical needs of the huge elephants that hauled massive teak logs from forest to river. Williams soon found that his lifelong love of animals extended to elephants as well and absorbed himself in learning all that he could about these incredibly intelligent beasts. Because of his tireless devotion to them he gained their trust and loyalty. But a job such as his was an arduous task. As Croke so vividly depicts, life in the Burmese jungle proved extremely dangerous – intense heat, poisonous snakes, deadly vegetation and insects, life-threatening malaria, seemingly endless monsoons.
Williams’ considerable experience, intimate knowledge of the territory, and his remarkable ability to communicate with the elephants made him the ideal candidate to operate behind enemy lines assisting the allies in pushing back the Japanese. With suspenseful detail, Croke describes the heroics of Williams and his company of elephants as they transport and position logs to build bridges for supply lines and guide refugees through treacherous conditions into ultimate safety. Croke’s superb storytelling brings to life the remarkable tale of this fascinating man. Yes, this is a story of war and elephants but mostly it’s one of understanding, determination, trust and valor.
Find Elephant Company on VBPL’s catalog. If you enjoy Elephant Company, you may also want to read Andrew Martin’s Flight by Elephant – World War II’s Most Daring Jungle Rescue or try Sergeant Stubby - How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum.
Review by Diane B.