The Elephant Company – Intermission Story (14)

(c) Cuneo Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Cuneo Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

James Howard “Billy” Williams went to Burma in 1920, fresh out of the service for WWI, for a position as a ‘forest man’.  It was there he became increasingly educated on the intelligence, character and welfare of elephants.

When Japan invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite British Force 136.  [a unit that today would compared to Rangers, SEALs and Delta Force].  Being older and wiser in the ways of the jungles, Williams’ tale of war and daring would become legendary.

In 1944, Lt.Colonel Williams, along with his Karen workers, uzis, elephant tenders, and the animals themselves made the stairway in Burma.  They go upward, a sheer rockface escarpment, narrowly escaping the Japanese hot on their trail, through the mountains of Imphal.

While many times the massive beasts stood on their hind legs to scale an ascent that surpassed Hannibal in the Alps.  All 53 elephants were successful and the workers and refugees alike followed close behind to the ridge and eventual safety.

Williams’ sketch of the ridge.

Years later, General Slim would say of the climb, “This is the story of how a man, over the years, by character, patience, sympathy and courage, gained the confidence of men and animals, so when the time of testing came – that mutual trust held.”

Williams and his company would continue in Burma to alter history with the 270 bridges built and erected to create the largest known Bailey bridge across the Chindurin at Kalewa in December.

Williams’ sketch for his memoir cover

James “Billy” Williams was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1945.  He would forever cherish his memories of the animals and the jungle, as shown in his memoir, “Elephant Bill” published in 1950. (originally titled, “1920-1946, Elephants in Peace, Love and War”)

Williams passed away on 30 July 1958, at the age of 60, during an emergency appendectomy operation.  His son, Treve, had gone to Australia for veterinary school a year previous.

Williams’ sketch of the Bailey Bridge

This information and pictures were derived from “Elephant Company” by Vicki C. Croke.

Click on images to enlarge.

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 CBI Roundup – Military Humor – 

“The folks at home are going to love this shot of me!”

“You can stand there all day – but you’re NOT getting a Section 8!”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Kevin Bushell – MD; US Navy, USS John McCain, Electrician Tech 2nd Class, KIA

Timothy Eckels Jr. – MD; US Navy, USS John McCain, Information Systems Tech 2nd Class, KIA

Charles N. Findley – MI; US Navy, USS John McCain, Electrician Tech 1st Class; KIA

James L. Hutchinson – CA; US Army Air Corps # 1014403, WWII, PTO, POW, KIA (Bataan, Camp O’Donnell, Section # 4)

Cory G. Ingram – NY; US Navy, USS John McCain, Information Systems Tech 2nd Class, KIA

Abraham Lopez – El Paso,TX; US Navy, USS John McCain,Interior Communication Electrician 1st Class, KIA

James McMillen – Jonesboro, GA; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, 11th and 101st Airborne Divisions, CO for 16th Battalion, Lt.Col.

Peter Roper – London, ENG; RAF, WWII, ETO / Korea, aviation medicine

Alan Sayers (102) – NZ; RNZ Navy # 1/15/2685

Louis Vetere – Brooklyn, NY; US Army, WWII, PTO

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 28, 2017, in Book Reviews, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 97 Comments.

  1. I can’t remember how I know this story because I haven’t read the book, it’s a lovely true story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You never cease to bring me never-heard-before stories. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love to find these stories. This book was recommended to me [wish I could remember who, it might have been Hilary Green or Gwendoline] and I was so glad to find a copy second-hand.

      Like

  3. This is a very interesting account of what elephants are capable of doing, which goes far beyond what one gets to see in a circus performance. Thank you for sharing, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here is an interesting WWII story for you, GP:

    It is a pay site, but you can sign up and read free articles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An amazing woman, Michael. Thank you for sending it. With each sad passing we loss another valuable connection to that generation. Just how many lives she must have saved with her passing off intel.!

      Like

  5. Feels like there’s a great movie in there somewhere. Wouldn’t be easy to make though.
    Amazing what some of these guys did.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have always thought of elephants as special creatures. Gentle giants, perhaps. The book sounds most interesting!

    Like

  7. I just bought a used copy of “Elephant Bill” and can’t wait to read about this very special man saving very special animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A wonderful story!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very good information. Burma is today “Myanmar”. Right? Do you think this will again be the “playground” for the USArmy? ;-(

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This post reminded me of General Sir William Slim, who finished up as Field Marshall The Viscount Slim, and was Governor General of Australia from 1953-60.

    Once had a photo of Sir William as he then was inspecting the troops at Puckapunyal in Victoria, with yours truly in the pic.

    My mother destroyed the photograph along with my slouch hat in a moment of anger.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Amazing that the elephants could climb along those ledges with their great size and weight. They would certainly have been a big help in carrying building supplies. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I read the book a long time ago. As I can’t remember much more than the the title it’s well overdue a reread … you’ll keep …

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A fantastic story and a very special man”Billy”He understood elephants

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m always amazed at how intelligent elephants are.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for another great Intermission story. I clicked my heels when the circuses stopped using the elephants!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Funny- I’d just been reading this and considering reviewing it! Yours is better 🙂 Thanks for another great read.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. What a fantastic read this was, always appreciate your posts!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Another fascinating post…thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. what an interesting story. I love it when animal and perseverance are both told in the same story

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Wow! Quite a story. “Elephant Bill” must have had amazing empathy with the animals for them to do what they did.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This doesn’t surprise me but I sure didn’t know it. Great read. I’m looking into his book.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Elephants are fascinating creatures — so smart, and so accepting of human companionship. The people who take the time to understand them are pretty neat, too. This was a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Very interesting story. I also noticed your recognition of our sailors killed on the USS John McCain. Seems even during times of relative peace, the military can be a risky job.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Terrific post GP. I wonder if this (or something very similar) was the inspiration behind Colonel Hathi and the Elephant Patrol in the 1967 Disney movie The Jungle Book?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Great story! “Elephant Bill”….What a wonderful person. In my mind, there is a special place for those who care for animals in that way.
    I actually LOVE elephants. They are so devoted to their group. I’ve even heard that they actually shed tears when one of their own dies. One of the saddest pictures that I’ve ever seen was of a baby elephant standing “sadly’ over the body of his mother. Very touching.
    Thanks for the post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lady G. I saw something similar on TV when a mother stood over her dead baby that couldn’t make their long migration. One by one each member went by the baby, stood a moment and then left.
      Frankly I get pretty ‘teed-off’ at people who use the term, ‘dumb animals’!! We can learn a lot from them!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. What a story! As I’ve written before, the story of the war in Burma is all too often forgotten today. Amazing stories of heroism under unthinkable hardship came out of the Burma theater. Three cheers, GP! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. What an incredible story! I can’t believe I did not know about this as much WW II history as I have read. I am going to have to read the book! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. When I went to Kenya, there was a remnant of the British colony. There are also ivory smuggling.
    The elephant was majestic in Africa!
    I hope these elephant here are reborn in Africa’s extensive ground!^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Roll over Hannibal, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I can’t imagine elephants doing that kind of climb. One thing I wasn’t clear about—were they using the elephants to carry gear and people or were they just trying to protect the elephants from the war? (I assume the first, but I wasn’t sure.)

    Liked by 1 person

  31. What an experience that had to be for those men. This is a story you’re not likely to hear when people talk about that war. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. What a great story, and I never heard of him. Thank you for sharing. I just bought the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is an area of the war that for some reason has been left to fade into history. One reason why I get so annoyed with people who try to purposely erase history. Thanks for dropping in.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. That’s a great story indeed. Elephants are such majestic creatures, it seems a shame that they have been trained for war down the centuries.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. what an amazing man and amazing story. i would love to read the book. thank you for sharing this –

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Thank you for sharing this memorable story with your readers.

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Elephant Company – Intermission Story (14) — Pacific Paratrooper | By the Mighty Mumford

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