Elephant Company

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

by Vicki Constantine Croke

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

I’m appalled and outraged at the recent retraction of the ban on elephant tusk trophies. Anyone who doesn’t understand the intelligence and empathy that elephants possess (in some cases elephants appear to exhibit more empathy than humans) should read this book.

Billy Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in World War I, to a job as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” Increasingly skilled at treating their illnesses and injuries, he also champiBilly Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in World War I, to a job as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” Increasingly skilled at treating their illnesses and injuries, he also championed more humane treatment for them, even establishing an elephant “school” and “hospital.” In return, he said, the elephants made him a better man. The friendship of one magnificent tusker in particular, Bandoola, would be revelatory. In Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke chronicles Williams’s growing love for elephants as the animals provide him lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude.

But Elephant Company is also a tale of war and daring. When Imperial Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite Force 136, the British dirty tricks department, operating behind enemy lines. His war elephants would carry supplies, build bridges, and transport the sick and elderly over treacherous mountain terrain. Now well versed in the ways of the jungle, an older, wiser Williams even added to his stable by smuggling more elephants out of Japanese-held territory. As the occupying authorities put a price on his head, Williams and his elephants faced his most perilous test. In a Hollywood-worthy climax, 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. Elephant Bill’s exploits would earn him top military honors and the praise of famed Field Marshal Sir William Slim.

Story Ideas

Where did the idea for the story come from?

I haven’t a clue where Quincy’s story came from. I think story ideas float around the universe, sometimes landing in people’s heads. Quincy’s story landed in mine.

Do you play the piano?

I began piano lessons at the age of ten. I wanted, in the worst way, to be a concert pianist. Like Quincy, I lacked the support. I also  lacked the talent. I endowed Quincy with my own wishes, although now I can’t even imagine living the life of a concert pianist. Too many hotels and late nights!

Is the story autobiographical in other ways?

Not really. I grew up in South Georgia in the same era as Quincy. Quincy’s parents weren’t mine. (With the exception that mine, like Quincy’s, didn’t support my interest in music.) I knew several people like Aunt Mildred, I’m sorry to say.

Life Experiences

My life took an exciting turn when I left my teaching job in Pennsylvania to be Head of Library at the Learning Center School of Qatar Foundation.

I lived in Qatar for eight years, traveling during every vacation, and enjoying the experience of living in a different culture. Recently, I returned to the United States.