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THE GERRY MALEY STORY – A Dramatic Rescue in the Eastern Highlands of Timor

Edward Willis

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At the time of the Japanese advance into Hatu-Lia in mid-March 1942 the town was occupied by three No. 2 Independent Company signallers.  They were in communication with headquarters through the party-line telephone service, and by Aldis lamp with a small party of signallers under Corporal Harry Wray at Cailaco on the other side of the valley.  As the Japanese approached Hatu-Lia the signallers remained in the town to report on the enemy's movements until they were almost upon them.  After signalling by Aldis lamp that they were leaving due to the Japanese advance, the signallers withdrew from Hatu-Lia to an observation post overlooking the town.

During the afternoon the Australians saw a party of men dressed in khaki uniforms approaching their observation post.  Believing the approaching men to be Australians, one of the observers, Signaller Gerry Maley, stepped forward and waved to them.  The advancing men went to cover and Maley, realising that they were Japanese, yelled to his companions to take cover before throwing himself down behind a tree.  He was too late, and a burst of machine-gun fire shattered his thigh.  Maley's companions dragged and carried him away to a native hut a short distance away.  With the assistance of the inhabitants the wounded man was hidden in a storage area in the ceiling of the hut.  The other signallers then set out for assistance through the Japanese-occupied countryside.

The Japanese knew that one of the Australians had been wounded and for several days they searched for him questioning Timorese in the area.  Fortunately, they did not carry out a thorough search of the hut in which Maley was hidden.  For much of the time the Australian was delirious with the pain of his wounded leg, but the Timorese tending him were able to keep him quiet while the Japanese searched the area.

Lieutenant Campbell, whose section was at Cailaco, wanted to lead a party to rescue Maley, but it was impossible as the Japanese were in force between his position and Maley's hiding place.  Captain Dunkley, the unit medical officer, was determined that Maley would be rescued and, accompanied by Lieutenant Turton and a party of Timorese, he set off for Atsabe.  After days of dodging Japanese patrols, including one group of about thirty Japanese who they found swimming in a buffalo wallow, the party rescued Maley.  After Dunkley splinted and dressed Maley's wound the injured man was carried by Timorese in a litter back to Atsabe where he received the best medical care available.  Later Maley was flown back to Australia with Private Hollow on the first flying boat to reach Timor. [2]

Maley said many years later that he owed his life to the Timorese boys, whose initiative in making the stretcher got him to safety: ‘I owe my life to Antonio and Manere in the first place.  If they weren’t able to rig up that stretcher in the first place I was gone’. [3]

Gerry never forgot his debt to the East Timorese for saving his life in 1942.  Following the influx of Timorese refugees to W.A. in 1975 Gerry, as the 2/2 Commando Association's liaison officer did a sterling job, helping them settle in their new country, encouraging them to maintain their culture and joining in their social activities.


The following account of Gerry Maley’s wounding and rescue was prepared by Col Doig for his unit history:

A saga of the early Timor Campaign which to date has not been adequately told, was the wounding and rescue of Signaller Gerry Maley.

"Sometime in the middle of March 1942 Sig. Maley was at Hatu-Lia with the Sigs attached to C Platoon.  A patrol led by Cpl Alf Walsh, comprising Ptes ‘Rocky’ Williams, Carl Maher, ‘Slim’ Elder and Sig Gerry Maley, were detailed to go into Aileu to rescue Merv Ryan who had been reported by Timor rumour to be in the vicinity of that Posto.  The patrol got into the vicinity of Aileu but somehow or other the whole plan went awry and anyhow word was received that Ryan had never left Dili.  The patrol came back to Hatu-Lia.  Orders were received for Sigs ‘Taffy’ Davies, ‘Rip’ McMahon and Maley to wait in Hatu-Lia and join another Section coming through.  The rest of ‘C’ Platoon moved on.


Signallers Observation Post (OP) Overlooking Hatu-Lia

At this time the Nips came through from Vila Maria and Gerry Maley had time to contact Capt Callinan by party phone at Atsabe and Bernie told the Sigs to move to Calaico.  The Sigs requested permission to set up an OP over Hatu-Lia.  Permission was readily granted as Callinan was particularly keen to get the best possible information at this time of Jap movement and the methods of operation.  This OP was set up on a spur (Timor absolutely abounds in spurs overlooking something or other) overlooking Hatu-Lia.  The Sigs were still watching for the Section which was to come through as they did not want them to march into a nest of Nips.

Gerry Maley Wounded

From the OP the party saw a small body of troops in khaki moving along the track towards the spur.  They covered these but they turned and went below the spur.  Timorese, who were with the Sigs, said ‘Australie’.  Gerry and co exposed themselves and waved to indicate their position.  Gerry used a beaut white hanky to do the waving.  Soon as the other party saw this they smelt a rat and broke up.  Our boys soon woke up this was no Aussie party but a small band of Japs on the prowl.  Gerry, Taffy and Rip dived for cover.  Rip was a little slow still firmly believing it was some of our boys.  Taffy whipped behind the biggest tree that could have grown on the island, Rip scrambled for cover behind Gerry as the fire opened up.  Bullets everywhere.  One grazed Rip's forehead and the very first burst of machine-gun fire got Gerry through the knee and shoulder.  The three could not move as they were pinned down by Jap fire.  This all happened about 8 a.m.

Gerry Left In The Care of Local Timorese

There was nothing for it but to wait and see just what the Nips would do.  They did not advance on the position, so Gerry told Rip and Taffy to try and fashion a stretcher.  With a couple of bamboos and stuff they made a stretcher of sorts and put Gerry on and carried him to a native village not so far away from the OP.  As the stretcher party came into the village the Nips opened fire on the village.  Gerry suggested to Taffy and Rip that they open fire on the Japs to draw their fire and leave him to the Timorese to look after.  The Timorese were the staunchest of allies.  They got Gerry into a hut, into the darkest possible corner and covered him up.

The Japs moved in, occupied the village and searched right and left to try and find Gerry.  They stayed in the village a day or so.  Gerry was in this village for several days.  He then sent a message to Cailaco by the Timorese advising of his plight and where he was.  All this time he was in terrific pain with the wound in the shoulder and the broken knee.  Gerry's message was acknowledged by Lt Arch Campbell.  After a few days nothing happened so Gerry got the Timorese to build a strong stretcher and talked them into taking him to another village.  All this was done while the Japs were having a siesta!  The loyal Timorese carried Gerry to another village after dark.  This village was on the Atsabe side of the ridge from Aileu.


Probable route to and from Ainaro and Hatu-Lia via Atsabe taken by Dunkley and Turton to rescue Maley


Doc Dunkley And Don Turton To The Rescue

At this time 5 Section who had gone back to Nasuta to recover gear which had previously been buried, had returned to Atsabe.  Also, there was Cpl Ray Aitken and Pte Charlie King who had gone with 5 Section to recover the gear, including a 108 [radio] set.  Capt Dunkley had set up his hospital at Ainaro.  Lt Campbell had got word to Major Spence that Maley was badly wounded and would require assistance.  Capt. Dunkley got wind of this, God alone knows how, and suggested that he go and handle the rescue.  Dunkley was firmly told that Sgt Major Craigie would handle the evacuation of Gerry from Cailaco.

Dunkley was never the type of man to take no for an answer or an order and promptly set off from Ainaro to get on with the rescue.  He moved to Atsabe and contacted Lt Don Turton who was there with a small number of Sappers, including Spr ‘Smash’ Hodgson.  Dunkley left it up to Turton to decide the best method of going about the rescue.  ‘Smash’ told this writer many months after that the cool, calm and collected manner in which Turton and Dunkley set about going after Maley, who for all they knew was still in a Jap occupied village, made his blood run cold.  ‘Smash’ said if requested by Turton to accompany him on the venture he would have gone but he was just as pleased when he wasn't asked.  As dusk started to fall Turton and Dunkley set off for the village. 

It was pretty dark when they ran in with some Timorese and managed to make them understand that they were seeking a wounded ‘Australie’ soldier.  Lucky they were that these were Timorese of that particular village and they led the two officers into the village to the hut where Maley was hidden practically unconscious with the pain.  Dunkley immediately set the leg and splinted it while Turton arranged for a strong stretcher to be made and a party of Timorese to carry it.  The ingenuity of the Timorese in fashioning stretchers had to be seen to be believed.

The Return Journey

The concourse pushed and prodded by Dunkley got away from the village and headed for the hospital at Ainaro, via Atsabe.

Aitken and Tapper went on to Ainaro to try and get someone to assist with the crossing of the river which ran below Ainaro.  They weren't very successful and returned to the river just as the Doc and the party arrived.  When Dunkley realised it was only Aitken and Tapper, he asked, ‘Where are the others?’ then ‘Don't tell me!’ and proceeded to give tongue.

The river crossing was effected with much incident.  All Timor streams are strewn with big boulders in the bed and flow at a rate of knots.  Every jerk of the stretcher was sheer hell to Gerry and the poor native carriers got an impatient cuff from the Doc for their trouble.  Once over the river it was plain sailing and on reaching Ainaro the Doctor had a few well-chosen words to say in a few pink ears for the lack of assistance.


Ainaro hospital in 1938


The hospital was probably the best one used by Dunkley during the whole campaign and was built for hospital purposes originally.  The beds were hard but there was one mattress normally used by the Doc, but Gerry soon found himself in a comfortable bed on the Doc's mattress.  The writer also remembers, at a later date, having the use of this same mattress smartly surrendered by the Doc when he came into hospital a bit the worse for wear.


There remains little more to tell of this incident except that Gerry had his knee properly set, his shoulder dressed and after contact was made with Australia, Gerry, along with Allan Hollow, Eddie Craghill, the Brigadier and Col Van Straaten, was evacuated to Australia with the first landing by a Catalina.  It was not long before he was in hospital in Hollywood.

The whole of this epic from the time of wounding until the evacuation deserves a better pen than mine.  It shows the terrific endurance of Gerry Maley.  It shows the intense loyalty of the Timorese who not only secreted him from the Japs but acted as his stretcher bearers.  It shows the rare medical skill combined with outstanding courage by Capt Dunkley who, with no regard to his own safety, went after a wounded man in what was thought to be Jap occupied territory.  It shows the strength and dependability of Don Turton, a thing so much in evidence then and always as the various campaigns went on.  If ever a show deserved recognition by way of a decoration, then this was it.  Properly handled Dunkley should have received a DSO, but once again we missed out and all that came of Dunkley's many epics was C in C's Commendation Card and an MID.



Captain Roger Dunkley’s MID citation

All that can be said in passing is that we were, as a Unit, singularly fortunate in our Capt ‘Cadbury’ as our MO. [4]

Gerry Maley’s Early And Postwar Life

Gerry passed away in the Hollywood Hospital on Sunday 24thJune at the age of 78.  He suffered indifferent health for many years brought on by a severe leg wound he received back in 1941.  He was born in Subiaco on the 2nd August 1922 into a large family, having three brothers and five sisters.  He enjoyed his school years excelling at sport and was a very bright pupil.  He was awarded a scholarship to attend Perth Modern School, which had the reputation of being the most progressive school for learning in W.A.  One of his teachers was the great Gerry Haire.  Gerry was to meet up with his tutor later in the 2/2nd.  His education at Modern School gave Gerry a sound grounding for his working life.


Gerry Maley in later life

Gerry enlisted in the A.I.F. at 18 and went on to join the 2/2nd as a signaller.  He was badly wounded in the shoulder and right leg in an encounter with a Jap patrol near Hatu-Lia in March 1942.  With the help of friendly natives who hid him in a hut for several days he was eventually rescued by a party led by Doc Dunkley and Don Turton.  He then spent nearly two months in Ainaro before being flown to Darwin on a Catalina on 24th May 1942.  A lengthy spell in a number of military hospitals followed.  While in Heidelberg, he had 37 operations on his leg with many of the skin grafts not taking.  It was a case of try and try again.  It was a very stressful time for Gerry, but he stood up to it well.  He was discharged in July 1944.  He ended up with one leg shorter than the other, a disability that was to cause severe back problems in later life.

Gerry spent his post war years in Sydney where he stayed with Jack O'Brien and did a course of accountancy under the rehab scheme.  Jack had the honour of being the NSW branches first president and Gerry their first secretary.  This was in 1946.

Gerry moved to Melbourne in the early 1950s marrying his first wife Margo.  They had three children and Gerry worked as an accountant for a wool firm.  He was an active member of the Victorian Branch being secretary for six years from 1952-57.

He returned to his home state in the 1960s living first at North Beach then at Yokine.  He ran an Ampol Service Station in Nollamara for a number of years, during which time he met Dorothy whom he later married.  They had one son Rodney.  Gerry went on to work as a purchasing officer for John Court (Northwest} before ill health forced his early retirement.  Gerry served on our WA executive and was Secretary from 1970-73 and president in 1978-79.  He was made a life member in 1972.  He had the distinction of being secretary in three state branches - a fine achievement indeed.  His advice was often sought after when contentious matters arose concerning the Association.  He also played a major role in the affairs of the TPI Association, Gerry himself being a TPI.  He went on to become the State President of that association and later their National President.

Under his leadership and guidance, he welded the state branches into a cohesive and effective lobby group, which eventually ensured its then 23,000 members, obtained their full entitlements.  This took all of Gerry's guile as at the time the NSW and Victorian Associations didn't see eye to eye when it came to TPI matters.  All in all, he made 13 train trips to Canberra on the TPI Associations behalf and each trip was a real effort for him.  In 1987 Gerry was awarded an Australian Honour, an OAM for his contribution to the TPI cause.

Gerry never forgot his debt to the East Timorese for saving his life in 1942.  Following the influx of Timorese refugees to W.A. in 1975 Gerry, as our Association's liaison officer did a sterling job, helping them settle in their new country, encouraging them to maintain their culture and joining in their social activities.

Gerry and Dot moved to Coodanup in Mandurah in 1989.  A devoted couple this was a happy time for them until Gerry's health deteriorated to the point he was in constant pain.  He was a well-read man, took a keen interest in botany and was a good lawn bowler when a member of the Yokine Club.

He enjoyed our Anzac Days and always had a ready grin and was good company.  We will miss him.

The large attendance at Gerry's funeral service on 27th June [2001] was an indication of the respect and esteem in which he was held. [5]


[1] Ayris, Cyril. - All the Bull's men: No. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron) / Cyril Ayris. - [Perth, W.A.]: 2/2nd Commando Association, 2006: 177.

[2] Wray, Christopher C. H. - Timor 1942: Australian commandos at war with the Japanese. - Hawthorn, Vic.: Hutchinson Australia, 1987: 95-96.

[3] Gerry Maley interview in ‘Independent Company: The Australian 2/2 Independent Company, Timor 1941–42’ (Documentary), Media World, 1988.

[4] A history of the 2nd Independent Company and 2/2 Commando Squadron / compiled by C.D. Doig. - Carlisle, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 2009. [First published: 1986]: 89-91.

[5] Jack Carey ‘Vale Philip Gerard (Gerry) Maley WX10772’ 2/2 Commando Courier September 2001: 4-6.






Edited by Edward Willis
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