43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Born in 1897, during the declining years of the British colonial empire, J.H. “Elephant Bill” Williams was a veteran of both World Wars. After World War I, he went to Burma and made a career of overseeing the captive elephants which helped to move teak wood from the jungles of Burma to the markets of the world.
Williams had an innate love for the Burmese elephants and they loved him back. Whereas the traditional training of elephants had tended to be unkind or even brutal, Elephant Bill revolutionized their care. He treated the animals with kindness and respect, and even started elephant training schools so they could gradually learn the skills they needed, instead of breaking their spirits to bring them into submission.
Williams’ knowledge of elephants assumed dramatic importance during World War II when Burma was invaded by Japan. The Japanese would have captured the Burmese elephants to build roads and bridges for their advancing army. Williams, however, was able to employ his skills and experience to help the British Army and the Allies retain the valuable animals for their own military needs.
The historic long trek of the elephants with fleeing British refugees, over incredibly difficult terrain into India, was breathtaking. Author Vicki Constantine Croke has done a remarkable job of finding original materials about J.H. Williams and his family, and especially about his work in WWII.
I highly recommend “Elephant Company,” which I read in a Kindle version.
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2014
WW II seems to have a never ending stream of stories to tell. This is rather unique In not being just an interesting true war history on a part of the CBI (China/Burma/India) front, as well as a love story, but also a moving and eduational tale of humans interacting with another animal species (elephants!) at the highest emotional and social levels. The lessons are legion, not least of which is a sense that the elephants are kinder, gentler and more sensitive than we are. You come away with a better understanding of what constitutes leadership among humans and/or animals. It makes reading about the decimation of elephants for their ivory in the current news ever so much more painful.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2014
The thing I always love about Vicki Croke's writing is the richness and depth of the stories she shares with us. It only starts with the tales she finds. They are always about her specialty; the interaction of complex and interesting people with complex and interesting animals. She develops that with technical and historical detail and manages to use that relationship teach us important things about both. Bandoola is my favorite character. Vicki makes him live for us. I'm not much of an animal person. I don't generally look for animal books, But this book was an amazing read.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2014
If you love elephants, you will love this book. It's the story of a man who went to Burma in 1920 to work for the teak industry and ended up fighting to improve life for working elephants. He said he became a better man by learning from elephants. The elephant characters, including the tusker Bandoola, his courageous mother Ma Shwe, and the miraculous "Guide Man," are unforgettable. The last section, on how the elephants helped the Allies in Burma in World War II, is a page-turning adventure! I love this book!
51 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2014
Sometimes you get the feeling that the publisher is playing a game with a reader; in this case guilty of a 'bait and switch'. This book's promoted on the jacket, in the title, in the subtitle as a book that centers on World War Two. That's pretty misleading since the war doesn't touch on the story until after page 200 of a book that runs under three hundred pages. The story of 'Elephant Bill' is strong enough without the war. In fact, I'd argue the real strength and beauty of this book was in the first half which centers on the relationship between the young British apprentice, his seemingly wary superior and a young male elephant. Croke extracts real pathos from this isolated group working together in the jungles of Burma. By the time Croke arrives at the Japanese invasion of Burma it's as if she's in a rush. While she took her time building characters the first 200 pages, she then switches gear and rushes through the war years in the last 80 pages of the book. It makes for an unsettling change of speed which tested the firm foundations she'd already laid.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2014
Like another reviewer, I was also taken in by the title. The majority of this book does not deal with WWII. If you are an animal lover or have an affinity for Indian elephants, than I heartily recommend this read. However, if you are reading this book for information or historical perspective on WWII, you may want to rethink your choice.
What was disappointing about this book is that it was rather like reading a very long blog. It reminded me of someone writing in a diary So rather than getting character development or a compelling plot leading up to the climax of how this wonderful man and his elephants helped in the war effort, you get a somewhat cursory run down of a life (a wonderful, meaningful life, mind you) of a man living with elephants.
It is really disappointing to write this review because, looking at the bibliography, this author really did some amazing and extensive research. After all that effort, the end result was rather limited. And I can't blame the author for this; this is why God made editors. Had the editor been doing his or her job, perhaps this book would markedly better. I will probably try another title by the same author for comparison because she seems like a compassionate soul when it comes to animals. Hopefully someone else edited her other works.
All in all, not a bad book but something that I believe a person wanting a quick extremely easy read would like. This would be a great book to take on a plane.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2014
Such a touching, heartfelt story -- one that provides new insight into the world of elephants and their relationship with humans. Too many of us simply lack the respect & appreciation for their intelligence, their family/friends connections. This book gives you, not only deeply felt insight into the elephant world, but how one man was able to "speak" their language, treat them humanely and become a richer, better man because of it. Informative about the fighting in Burma during World War II. Yet another teachable moment by reading this well-told story.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Billy Williams returned from the Great War and desired nothing more than adventure in the company of elephants. Traveling to Burma and signing on with a British teak lumber concern, he got his chance.
This is such a charming story! I'm usually not a reader of "charming stories" and the military history aspect of the book initially triggered the purchase. Actually, there's very little military history and absolutely no combat in the book. Having said that, I am glad I bought it and it really is an excellent read.
James Howard "Billy" Williams entered Burma at what would be the end of the colonial era in which Great Britain ruled large patches of the globe. In Burma, Williams becomes an employee of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and is immediately in contact with elephants and the experience affects him greatly. For a man who loves animals, working with these intelligent giants is a fascination and a joy. Williams becomes a "wallah" - an elephant expert who can treat elephant injuries, direct their work and comes to understand their thinking together with his Burmese workers. It's a window into a long-gone world and how British lived in the colonies.
The book chronicles his adventures with the elephants, his Burmese workers, falling in love and marrying, being involved in the Allied war effort in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater. Although his elephants did good work building bridges and leading refugees to India, barely escaping the clutches of the brutal Japanese, "Elephant Bill's" elephants were not vital or even important. But, it adds to the story itself.
This is a tale of the jungle, of a man's joy in the wilds and among animals who always had the best interests of his elephants at heart. He established "academies" for young elephants rather than allow the calves of working, female elephants die. He established hospitals for injured elephants and showed the company that they didn't need to use cruel methods of capturing wild elephants.
As I said, this isn't my usual read. Having said that, I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it with five stars.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2014
A wonderful read, quite moving. Excellent technical details and geographical/historical description. My only unhappiness was that it seemed to end rather abruptly, and I wish it had gone on longer and followed Williams' later career and life.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2014
After reading the NYT's review of Vicki Croke's Elephant Company, I was so intrigued that I ordered it right away. This is the true story of Col. James "Elephant Bill" Williams, an Englishman who, as a young WWI veteran, went to Burma to try his hand in the business of teak harvesting. The teak industry was not yet mechanized and relied heavily on the power provided by trained elephants. Williams had been an animal fancier since early childhood and was instantly enthralled by the huge beasts. To say that he developed a bond with them is to grossly understate the case. His ability to understand and communicate with elephants, his love of jungle life, and his leadership abilities combined to propel him to success as a manager of teak forests. His career development is tracked skillfully related by Ms. Croke. She has researched her subject well, and Williams' character and personality are brought to light vividly as she chronicles the events that led Williams to become "Elephant Bill.". As an added bonus, we learn a tremendous amount about elephants, their behavioral quirks, and their interactions with humans. With the advent of WWII, the story becomes downright thrilling. Williams serves the British forces in Burma in their bloody struggle against the Japanese. He is made their first and only elephant officer, given the rank of colonel, and allowed to form the company for which the book is named. The company's elephants are meticulously trained and cared for, and completely loyal to Williams. Harnessing their intelligence and great strength, Williams is able to construct log bridges for British forces with unprecedented rapidity. Finally, and against great odds, he and his elephants are able to effect the evacuation of a large number of British nationals, native Burmese, and ethnic Gurkas from Japanese-held territory, across hostile terrain, and ultimately into the safety of east India. This is a remarkable story of a remarkable man. While a life such as Williams provides a lot of "can't-miss" material, only a skilled author can do it justice. Vicki Croke has filled the bill admirably, and I highly recommend this book.