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

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

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

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

by Vicki Croke


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The remarkable story of James Howard “Billy” Williams, whose uncanny rapport with the world’s largest land animals transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero known as Elephant Bill

In 1920, Billy Williams came to colonial Burma as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence and character of the great animals who hauled logs through the jungle, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” In Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke chronicles Williams’s growing love for elephants as the animals provide him lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude.

Elephant Company is also a tale of war and daring. When Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite British Force 136 and operated behind enemy lines. His war elephants carried supplies, helped build bridges, and transported the sick and elderly over treacherous mountain terrain. As the occupying authorities put a price on his head, Williams and his elephants faced their most perilous test. Elephant Company, cornered by the enemy, attempted a desperate escape: a risky trek over the mountainous border to India, with a bedraggled group of refugees in tow. Part biography, part war epic, Elephant Company is an inspirational narrative that illuminates a little-known chapter in the annals of wartime heroism.

Praise for Elephant Company

“This book is about far more than just the war, or even elephants. This is the story of friendship, loyalty and breathtaking bravery that transcends species. . . . Elephant Company is nothing less than a sweeping tale, masterfully written.”—Sara Gruen, The New York Times Book Review

“Splendid . . . Blending biography, history, and wildlife biology, [Vicki Constantine] Croke’s story is an often moving account of [Billy] Williams, who earned the sobriquet ‘Elephant Bill,’ and his unusual bond with the largest land mammals on earth.”—The Boston Globe

“Some of the biggest heroes of World War II were even bigger than you thought. . . . You may never call the lion the king of the jungle again.”—New York Post

“Vicki Constantine Croke delivers an exciting tale of this elephant whisperer–cum–war hero, while beautifully reminding us of the enduring bonds between animals and humans.”—Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812981650
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/14/2015
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 67,538
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Vicki Constantine Croke has been chronicling animal life for more than two decades—tracking polar bears, Tasmanian devils, and Madagascar’s top predator, the fossa. She now covers animal issues for WBUR-FM, Boston’s NPR news station, on air (Here and Now) and on WBUR’s The Wild Life online. Her work there earned a 2013 regional Edward R. Murrow Award. She is the author of The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal,and The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos—Past, Present and Future. Croke has worked on nature documentaries for Disney and for the A&E channel and anchored The Secret Life of Animals on NECN-TV. She also wrote The Boston Globe’s “Animal Beat” column for thirteen years, and has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Sunday Telegraph, Time, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, National Wildlife, and Discover magazine, among others. She lives in the Boston area.

Read an Excerpt

Part One

Excerpted from "Elephant Company"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Vicki Croke.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Map xv

Part 1 The Making of an Elephant Wallah

Chapter 1 The Shoulders of a Giant 3

Chapter 2 Into the Jungle 9

Chapter 3 Meeting the Boss-and the Elephants 25

Chapter 4 Initiation Rites 33

Chapter 5 How to Read an Elephant 58

Chapter 6 The Fairest Tusker of Them All 69

Chapter 7 The Burning Boss 76

Chapter 8 Sex, Cricket, and Blue Cheese 81

Chapter 9 School for Men and Elephants 86

Chapter 10 Drunk on Testosterone 96

Chapter 11 Master Class in Trust and Courage 103

Chapter 12 The Jungle Family has No Wife 113

Chapter 13 "The Murder of Me" 118

Chapter 14 Bandoola: Hero Or Rogue? 124

Chapter 15 A Murder Investigation 132

Chapter 16 Rebels and Reunions 136

Part 2 Love and Elephants

Chapter 17 Tiger Hour 151

Chapter 18 The Cannibal Islands 166

Chapter 19 Sunlight and Shadow 174

Chapter 20 Into the Cauldron 185

Part 3 War Elephants

Chapter 21 Fleeing Burma 205

Chapter 22 No. 1 War Elephant 218

Chapter 23 The Making of Elephant Bill 231

Chapter 24 Elephant Company Hits its Stride 240

Chapter 25 A Crazy Idea 252

Chapter 26 The Elephant Stairway 269

Epilogue 284

Acknowledgments 291

Notes 297

Index 329

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