The book is about a man named William (Billy) Williams (that isn’t a joke) who was an Englishman. He participated in World War I and after decided to see the world. He got a job in Burma with a logging company. The company used elephants to pack tique wood out of the Burmese jungles to supply European nations with the precious material. What began as a quest for adventure turned into a lifelong love of elephants.
Williams formed a kind of bond with the elephants that wasn’t normal, in the sense that he dedicated his life to the preservation of these intriguing creatures. A lot of the book consists of explanations of elephant behavior and how Williams managed the day to day tasks of taking care of the elephants. Early on, an elephant became sick and died while Williams was still a young man. He performed an autopsy on the elephant to understand their biology better. That’s the kind of man Williams was. He was curious about elephants and he formed a kinship with them that defied convention. Williams even came up with a new system to “break in” the elephants to manual labor. Young elephants traditionally were instructed in a type of school that taught them how to do their jobs in the Burmese jungles. They were chained up most times but Williams saw the wisdom of treating the animals more freely. This model came from one special elephant, Bandula, who was a rare exception to this process. Williams suggested that all elephants should go through a similiar process and it was implemented under his hand.
Bandula and Williams were an inseparable duo that lasted all of the formers life. Much of the book focuses around the strange relationship between elephant and man. Given the subtitle to this book, you would expect most of it to be about the war. However, only a few chapters are dedicated to the Japanese invasion of Burma. This was slightly disappointing. The “Elephant Company” was a group of elephants who aided building bridges and other projects for the engineers of the English Army. They worked together to traverse terrain that was difficult for humans alone. Led by Williams with Bandula by his side, they rescued hundreds of men, women, and children from the onslaught of the Japanese invaders.
In the end, this book is an intriguing look into the life of elephants. They seem to be incredibly intelligent and I think learned more about them than I ever knew before.