'It was now that an orange glow appeared farther down the road. Above it, flames lighting its rolling belly, was an oily cloud, showing that a vehicle had caught fire. It was the one that was badly damaged and on tow. Either it had been hit again or the petrol-soaked ground had been fired by hot shrapnel; anyway it had gone up in flames with a great, gusty sigh. While Bill Ingham cast off the tow-chain other drivers got to work with fire extinguishers. The same thought was in everyone's mind: ‘Hell, you could just about see this from the Alps!’ The enemy certainly could see it, and after battling with the flames for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour the drivers had to take cover. Some fled to a nearby house—the Villa Agrippina of blessed memory.
The Villa Agrippina was Heaven. Thoughtful German infantry had barricaded its windows with baulks of timber and its walls were comfortingly solid. The drivers sat down on the floor in the large kitchen and never had cigarettes tasted so good. The room was full of engineers, RAP men, and tobacco smoke. At a table officers conferred and a man at a microphone spoke quietly and earnestly to someone called ‘Uncle Fox-Fox’. Everyone was in high spirits and the news was good. The infantry had got across with few casualties and all was quiet at the bridge sites. The storm, though, was still raging outside: the burning lorry was still there, and the artificial moonlight, and the straight, narrow road. The idea of leaving the kitchen—the warm, cheerful, tobacco-filled kitchen—appalled everyone, and little enthusiasm was shown when Captain Williams arrived and said there was work to do.
He wanted a panel lorry to replace the one that had caused the trouble by the crossroads. Having failed to scoop it on to the road, the bulldozer had pushed it farther into the ditch (and good riddance), and the up-route was now clear in front of the burning lorry. But all the panel lorries, unfortunately, were behind it, and they could reach the crossroads only by the down-route. Getting a panel lorry on to this meant backing five lorries at the end of the train into a farmyard.
The drivers involved came out of the cosy kitchen into the storm, and when the road was clear the last panel lorry in the train, followed by three decking lorries that were needed to complete the low-level bridge, set out for the river by the down-route, Bill Ingham leading the way in Captain Williams's jeep. Captain Williams stayed behind to assess the damage to his transport.
As always on these occasions it was found to be diSapperoportionate to the sound, the fury, and the expense of spirit. There were holes in trays, chassis, and engine cowlings. One lorry was on tow with a gash in its radiator, and the front of another was smashed. Someone had backed into it while arrangements were being made, rather hastily perhaps, to give the burning lorry more room. Two bottles of Canadian beer had been broken in a tucker box and there were six punctures, most of which had been dealt with already. ‘Spieler’ Sinclair and Lance-Corporal Sid Bracegirdle had changed a wheel under fire in less than five minutes.
Shells were still coming over but not so often now. Two heavy shells landed near the crossroads while ‘Chum’ Lee and ‘Ned’ Kelly were making themselves useful with their winch for the second time that night, the lorry in trouble being the one with that ill-omened load of panels for the low-level bridge.
It was now after midnight, and the high-level bridging was likely to be needed very soon. As the up-route was still closed to a large part of the train by the burning lorry, Captain Williams organised a fire-fighting party. When the blaze sank to a resentful smouldering he went forward to the bridge report centre to ask for a bulldozer. One was sent down immediately, and the hot mass, flaring like a stoked fire at the first touch of the blade, was shoved into the ditch.
The lorries moved forward, passing through a fringe of flame, and at one in the morning the engineers started work on the Woodville high-level bridge. As they were called for the lorries went to the bridge site in groups of three and unloaded. Then they set out independently for the Ravenna bridging dump to reload. It was as simple as that.
By the river all was orderly and quiet, though two men had been killed and several wounded. The battle had ebbed north and the work went forward smoothly and quickly under the artificial moonlight. It was no different from a rehearsal except that the far stopbank was torn and blackened and you could taste all the time (now faint, now strong, now sour, now sickly-sweet, always evil and darkly exciting) the foul breath of battlefields.
Back at the crossroads the ditched panel lorry was still making a nuisance of itself, one wheel being thrust spitefully across the road. By squeezing against the tire the 3 ½-ton Dodges were just able to get past, but many of them would have ended in the ditch if it had not been for Captain Williams and Bill Ingham. They gave directions under fire, and it was entirely due to their efforts that the bridging arrived on time. As a result Captain Williams was awarded an immediate Military Cross and Bill (Ingham) an immediate Military Medal.' (Source: Llewellyn, S. p. Journey Towards Christmas: Official History of the 1st Ammunition Company, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 1939-45. pp. 413-414.) AWMM