In 1944 a directive from HQ commanded that Williams gather his Elephant Company and lead them out of Burma. The reasons for the exodus were confidential, but in fact the British forces were planning an all-out offensive to retake Burma, and they needed to protect the elephants from the possibility of being captured by the enemy. An exodus on a par with the legendary Hannibal was required. And it was up to Elephant Bill to facilitate it.
The tale of Williams' escape from Burma with his herd of elephants and dozens of refugees, including sick children, is simply amazing. We see Jim's selflessness and brilliance, as well as Bandoola's loyalty, trust, and stamina. We feel the fear, the desperation, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their way, and find ourselves breathless at the outcome. Such is the result of great writing.
Reading about Elephant Bill and Bandoola as I sat in a comfortable chair with a warm cat on my lap and a couple of happy, well-fed dogs at my feet, was a humbling experience. I'm not sure I would have the stamina and determination to cope with the searing heat of the jungle, the variety and scariness of the insect life, the mold and mud of monsoon season, nor the vastness of the elephants, who could squash a man into an unrecognizable mound in seconds. That sort of passion and dedication is, perhaps, in short supply these days. Jim Williams' wife Susan was as dedicated as he, and preferred the jungle life to their later years of English leisure. Williams' life was an adventure story, with all of the elements for suspense, drama, comedy and horror, and Vicki Croke is the perfect scribe to tell the tale. This man's story will stay with you for a long, long time.