How Burmese Elephants Helped Defeat the Japanese in World War II

James Howard “Billy” Williams, the son of a mining engineer from Cornwall, in England, seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.

Employed as a forest manager with a British teak company in colonial Burma, he was captivated by the strength, the intelligence, and even the sense of humor of the elephants used to haul timber.

In 1942, when the Japanese invaded Burma, Williams joined a British Special Forces unit that specialized in guerrilla warfare. Deep in the jungle, his elephant company built bridges and ferried weapons and supplies. Cornered by the Japanese, they faced their most daunting test, an epic trek across several mountain ranges to India—and safety.

Vicki Constantine Croke, author of Elephant Company, talks about how “Elephant Bill” and his troop of pachyderms scaled a 300-foot cliff, how the logging industry in modern-day Myanmar is helping conserve the Asian elephant, and why she believes that elephants make us better people.

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