Spotlight: Elephants in the Archive, Eek!

While National Elephant Appreciation Day may not be officially recognized as a Federal Holiday, its upcoming celebration (September 22nd) provided an excuse for an expedition through our holdings in the Still Picture Branch.

The search for elephants, as it is for all animals here in Still Picture, starts with an established finding aid specifically catered toward beasts of the wild (and domestic!).  The finding aid, located in our Research Room at College Park, provides a reliable entry point, turning up images like these highlights from 208-MO, Photographs of American Military Operations, 1942 – 1945, and 127-GVB, Black and White Photographs of Marine Corps Activities in Vietnam, 1962 – 1975, respectively.

4/3/45. A Chinese infantryman (foreground) watches elephants carrying supplies along the Stilwell road for Chinese troops battling the Japanese in Burma. Following the liberation of Mandalay by British and Indian troops on March 20, 1945, Chinese forces northeast of this principal base in central Burma, completed clearing the Lashio-Hsipaw section of the road between Lashio and Mandalay. The loss of Mandalay by the Japanese was a crushing defeat in their battle to maintain supply centers on the Asiatic continent.
Local Identifier: 208-MO-70N-39198  “Chinese Troops in Burma Use Elephants in Battle Against Japanese
14 October 1966. Marines of "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines pass through an open field near some elephants belonging to the Monteguards people while on patrol around the Kho Sank air strip.
Local Identifier: 127-GVB-42-A194514 “Marines of ‘A’ Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines pass through an open field near some elephants belonging to the Monteguards people while on patrol around the Kho Sank air strip.”

 

From there, brushing through the Army Signal Corps card catalog (111-SC, Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981), also located in our Research Room, reveals more images containing these colossal creatures.  From Red Cross Christmas Parades in Sri Lanka,

Jan 5, 1945. The procession was led by the Kandyan dancers followed by an elephant and Father Christmas in sleigh pulled by two white bullocks. The procession was enroute to a British hospital to entertain its patients during their Red Cross Christmas Party.
Local Identifier: 111-SC-326594  “Procession Enroute to a British Hospital to Entertain its Patients During their Red Cross Christmas Party.”

 

to Women’s Army Corps (WACs) personnel observing elephant bath time in Myanmar,

WACs watch natives scrubbing an elephant. Kandy, Ceylon, 1944.
Local Identifier: 111-SC-196543-S  “WACs Watch Natives Scrubbing an Elephant.”

 

Signal Corps photographers have documented elephants in the foreground and background of a variety of shots and locations.

An elephant pulls a log from the swampy jungle to a loading area beside the Ledo Road in Assam, India. There the logs are loaded on a truck and hauled to a sawmill five miles away. 18 October 1944.
Local Identifier: 111-SC-274589 “An elephant pulls a log from the swampy jungle to a loading area beside the Ledo Road in Assam, India.”
21 Sept. 1944. Motion Picture Cameraman T/4 Louis Raczkowski rides through the swamps on the back of an elephant during a job in Assam.
Local Identifier: 111-SC-263206  “Motion Picture Cameraman T/4 Louis Raczkowski rides through the swamps on the back of an elephant during a job in Assam.”

 

Across these images, it’s clear: the role elephants played within these communities was one of mammoth importance.  And what’s more, they are just utterly magnificent animals to observe.

 

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