Book Notes | ‘Elephant Company’
“A spellbinding, true story of elephantine and human courage … (and) a triumph that will make you cheer!” is how American naturalist and writer Sy Montgomery described Elephant Company by Vicki Croke. Based on a true story about James Howard Williams, an English veteran of World War I and II, the book relates Williams’ growing love for elephants and how his experiences with them provided lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude.
Williams took a job as manager of several logging camps in Burma (now Myanmar) after World War I. The Bombay Burma Trading Corporation used elephants and the local Burmese to harvest teak trees in this lucrative industry.
Most called him Billy Williams (later it became Elephant Bill). He immersed himself in the world of elephants and logging by learning their language and everything he could about the animals, even performing autopsies to better understand their health and care. After studying and observing the current practices, Bill reformed how the elephants were raised and trained.
A lifelong friend and savior
One elephant, named Bandoola, rose above the rest in intelligence and strength and became Bill’s lifelong friend and savior. Friend, because they had such a connection, and savior, because Bandoola saved Bill when he was delirious with malaria.
Life in Burma was not easy. In addition to the heat and humidity there were monsoons, malaria, and elephant itch. Then came World War II. In 1942, when the Japanese were trying to take over the country, Billy was asked to evacuate the British citizens to India—with support from his elephants. It was an incredible and successful feat but not nearly as daring as a second trek across Manipur and Assam in 1944 to save several dozen refugees.
Most members of the UMRA Book Club I group really enjoyed the book and were amazed by Jim William’s accomplishments and talent as an animal “whisperer.” A few thought there was more information than they’d ever care to know about elephants but were definitely in awe of the magnificent animal.
—Joni Mitchell, UMRA Book Club I
April Book Club I
Fri, Apr 21 2023, 2pm
Joni Mitchell will lead the discussion of Elephant Company by Vicki Croke when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 21.
Email Pat Tollefson at [email protected] for more information, including suggestions for starting a new book club.
To read summaries of the book club members’ discussions, go to “Book Notes.”
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