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Subject: Re: [CON] Col JH Williams/Elephant Bill
Date: Sun, 2 Feb 2003 23:48:54 -0500

Sandra, I don't even know how you (and/or your other/better half) know
where to look these things up, let alone how you retain all you do
WITHOUT looking-up. Memory training? Anyway, all is interesting.
ann b
On Sun, 2 Feb 2003 01:17:05 -0000 "George Pritchard"
<> writes:
> Hi Julie and list
> Jim Williams was OC [Officer Commanding] No 1. Elephant Company,
> 14th Army,
> Burma. At one point during the war he was in charge of 700
> elephants.His
> final rank was Lt.Col J.H.Williams. OBE. I have a biography of him
> " In the
> footsteps of Elephant Bill" written and signed by his wife Susan in
> 1962.
> She spent her girlhood in Burma and met Jim there on the banks of
> the
> Chindwin. As well as their youngest daughter, Lamorna, I think there
> was a
> son Treve. Jim's father was a Cornish mining engineer and his mother
> was
> Welsh . They had been caught up in the Jameson raid during the Boer
> War and
> had left all they possessed in their flight to safety. They had
> taken a
> house temporarily in St. Just when they returned and never moved
> again , The
> beams of seven lighthouses could be seen from their window. Jim was
> born
> there in 1897. When WW1 broke out he was studying at Camborne School
> of
> mines age 17 . His elder brother had joined up but he was too young.
> However, he persuaded the colonel of his brother's regiment to let
> him
> enlist and six months later he was in the near East. At the end of
> the war
> he returned to St. Just but he had been bitten by the wanderlust
> bug. When
> out in the East he had met a man who had given him an introduction
> to the
> Bombay, Burmah Teak Company. Soon he was off again, as a Forest
> Assistant
> Ranger in the Burmese jungle He was to spend the next 25 years there
> off and
> on.
> In WW2 during the battle for Burma he and his team of elephants
> first
> assisted in the retreat of the 14th British Army and again 4 years
> later
> when they advanced through the jungle to liberate it from the
> Japanese. They
> built hundreds of bridges over the rivers, assisted by the
> elephants.
> Nicknamed "Elephant Bill" he wrote several books, the most well
> known being
> that with the eponymous title above and another titled "Bandoola"
> named for
> one of his favourite male elephants.
> After the British left Burma Jim returned with his family in Feb
> 1946 to his
> parents old home in St. Just. Although they were now both dead the
> cottage
> had been looked after by neighbours. They decided to try and run a
> smallholding-market garden growing daffodils and anemones for the
> early
> market. Thousands of bulbs were planted but in 1947 Cornwall
> suffered the
> worst winter since the blizzard of 1891. However, the following
> spring was
> mild and other areas were still locked in the grip of the icy
> weather.
> Their flowers made good prices. However, "one swallow does not a
> summer
> make". Prices dropped and so there was little profit at the end of
> the
> season..The next winter the gales seared everything in its path as
> they were
> on a very exposed site.
> Jim had already written the story of his time with the elephants but
> could
> not find a publisher. The book lay at home in a drawer. The market
> garden
> looked like failing so he took a job selling insecticide sprayers .
> First
> he was sent to America to see the thing working on the farms there
> and to
> contact the American branch of the manufacturers. Whilst there he
> was
> invited to speak at a business lunch and started to talk about his
> jungle
> life. Two reporters from the New Yorker magazine who were there
> interviewed
> him, asking him why he had not written a book!! The rest is history.
> A short
> while later the book was sold to an English publisher who had read
> the
> article in the New Yorker magazine. In 1949 the couple bought a
> farm in St
> Just near the smallholding and the book was in the shops a few
> months
> later. The farm was to be a drain on their finances, as he kept
> animals
> whether they were productive or not. He was too tender hearted for
> the
> business to prosper. However, his wife maintains in her book that
> the
> experience was of tremendous value and gave priceless returns not
> measured
> on a balance sheet. Their son was later to study to be a vet after
> going to
> Australia. sometime in 1958. There last home was "Menwinnion" just
> above
> Lamorna, a dream Bill had always had.. He was a gifted
> watercolourist and
> Lamorna had been home of many artists, both past and present..It had
> cost
> £1000 to build in 1912 for the artist Frank Heath. He had purchased
> 10
> acres of clifftop from Col Paynter of Boskenna. The builders were
> the
> Mathews family from Newshop, St. Buryan and it took a year to build.
> It is
> perched right on top of the cliffs to the south-west of the cove.The
> name
> means "Windy Stones" Frank Heath died in 1936 and Jim's
> brothers,John and
> Nicky Williams had bought the house from his widow Jessica. Jim and
> his
> family moved into it the early fifties Later it was a Country
> House Hotel
> and more recently a home for the elderly.
> "Elephant Bill" became a national figure and his book sold
> millions. He
> lectured on the circuits of various schools and universities etc. He
> was in
> great demand and he could hold an audience spellbound. In 1953 he
> was the
> speaker at the Penzance Grammar School for Boy's- Speech Day and my
> brother,
> together with Mum and Dad, had gone e to the presentation. They had
> listened
> to him speak for an hour and a half and no one stopped him. I had
> arrived
> home from school at 4pm expecting them any time soon as I was never
> left at
> home alone. I had to practise my burglary skills to get in !!. They
> turned
> up at 6. The wonderful stories were related to me. This otherwise
> withdrawn,
> solitary,lover of animals could hold an audience captive... This was
> before
> the days of natural history programmes on television. The behaviour
> of these
> large but gentle creatures was a revelation. He preferred their
> character to
> that of his fellow man. "...herds of wild elephant show no
> resentment when
> domesticated ..[elephant] join them. They have none of that herd
> instinct
> directed against the stranger that one finds in cattle, in small
> boys and
> among grown-up men!."
> He was to die quite suddenly in 1958 after an emergency appendectomy
> in
> Penzance Hospital. His wife whilst working on her in book found some
> papers
> that he had written just before his death. It is too long to recount
> all but
> here is a flavour...
> "Born a Celt- my home in Cornwall- the Land's End, but to me the
> land's
> beginning. The West of England my haven.
> As a boy I was sometimes called a dreamer, but then my home spelt
> romance.
> My father had time to be my friend, and I never tired of his stories
> of
> travel and adventure prospecting in such romantic places as
> Australia,
> Brazil, South Africa, Spain and Portugal.
> My mother was a lovely little Welsh woman who broke a very promising
> career
> at the Royal College of Music to marry. My two brothers and I were
> inseparable and as wild as March hares, for we had the unrestricted
> freedom
> of cliffs, caves, valleys and moors of a small peninsula,
> Being without sisters I loved everyone else's with a deep passion,
> an
> important thing in life. I have at times experienced what many
> people would
> consider unbearable loneliness in jungles,deserts and cities with
> the utmost
> happiness and tranquillity. At other times I have taken the very
> essence of
> the enjoyment out of any city where the opportunity has occurred. I
> have
> therefore seen both sides of life- and I have enjoyed both to the
> full......I am now back in Cornwall- my children living the same
> life as I
> did-these things do not change. I pray they too will go places and
> see
> things "
> I would say this is as fitting an epitaph as any written by another.
> Hope you find it interesting
> Regards Sandra
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Julie Wheeler" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Saturday, February 01, 2003 9:19 PM
> Subject: [CON] Col JH Williams/Elephant Bill
> > Does anyone know the identity of this gentleman? He grew up in
> Cornwall
> and
> > I know he had a daughter called Lamorna.
> >
> > He was known as Elephant Bill and wrote a book by the same name of
> which I
> > now have two copies.
> >
> > Julie (the Camborne girl)
> > NSW
> > Australia
> > OPC Phillack
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > ==== CORNISH Mailing List ====
> > To contact Sharon Symons, Listmum, send email to
> <>
> >
> >
> ==== CORNISH Mailing List ====
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> <>

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