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


Elephant Company is the story of James Howard "Billy" Williams, a British colonist and soldier in Burma (now Myanmar) during World War II.  In 1920, Williams began work as a forest assistant for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, overseeing 70 elephants and their handlers in the company's teak operations.  Over the ensuing years, Williams developed a deep respect for elephants and formed a lasting bond with a bull elephant named Bandoola.  During the Japanese invasion of Burma, Williams led his elephants on several long-distance treks to evacuate civilians, saving hundreds of lives.  In a clear, often beautiful narration, Croke shines a spotlight on this little-remembered but fascinating historical figure and the animals he loved.

"Williams had witnessed a life among the elephants that would be hard for those outside to fathom — in fact, he reported behaviors that many would not believe until they were validated decades later by biologists in the field. He had seen these creatures thoughtfully solve problems, use tools, protect one another, express joy and humor, stand up for something more important than their own safety, and even, perhaps, comprehend the concept of death. There was a largeness to them that was about more than their physical size, a quality triggered especially when their sense of decency or outrage was provoked."

Vicki Constantine Croke is a journalist and author; her books include Elephant Company, The Lady and the Panda, and The Modern Ark.  She has worked on nature documentaries, NPR's Here & Now, and TheBoston Globe's "Animal Beat" column.

Published:  2014
Length:  368 pages
Primary Setting:  Myanmar (Burma)
Secondary Setting:  Cornwall, England