George Thomas WHITELEY
New South Wales Police Force
Sergeant 3rd Class
Regd. # ?
Stationed at Berrigan
Gas Cylinder Explosion
Died: 25 March, 1931
About 4am on 25 March, 1931 Sergeant Whiteley and Constable McRae attended a fire at the Momalong Hotel, Berrigan. During the fire both police officers were standing on the roadway outside the hotel when a gas cylinder exploded and a piece of flying metal struck the sergeant in the face, causing “injuries of a terrible nature” and killing him instantly. Three bystanders (of an estimated two thousand who were watching the blaze) were also badly injured in the blast and another five were hit by flying steel, however all others recovered. The sergeants faithful dog, which was standing beside his master, was also struck by flying debris and killed instantly.
The Canberra Times of 26 March, 1931 carried the following account of the incident.
FATAL EXPLOSION IN FIRE AT BERRIGAN. Police officer killed by flying steel.
Sydney, Wednesday. The explosion of a gas cylinder occurred during a fire at the Momalong Hotel, Berrigan. Within a few minutes the entire population had turned out. The flames spread with great rapidity. The occupants of the hotel made a speedy exit. When the cylinder exploded with a terrific roar, Sergeant Whiteley and Constable McRae were standing in the centre of the roadway. A piece of steel became embedded in Whiteley’s head. He was quickly conveyed to a local surgery where life was pronounced extinct. Michael Hurood, Elsie McGee, and Elaine Dawson were struck by flying steel and badly injured about the body. They are expected to recover. A bucket brigade did splendid work. More than two thousand persons turned out to watch the fire, but when the explosion occurred there was a wild dash for safety. Whiteley, who was 41, suffered injuries of a terrible nature, while a dog standing beside him was killed instantly. Five other men were hurt by flying steel. Whiteley was married with five children.
The sergeant was born in 1886 and joined the New South Wales Police Force on 15 March, 1910. At the time of his death he was stationed at Berrigan.
Western Argus ( W.A. ) Tuesday 31 March 1931 page 13 of 36
GAS CYLINDER EXPLODES POLICE SERGEANT KILLED. DISASTROUS FIRE AT BERRIGAN. Sydney, March 25. A police sergeant was killed, three people were hurt and nearly 1000 others scattered in terror when, during a fire at the Momolong Hotel, Berrigan, a gas cylinder exploded. The dead man is Sergeant C. George Whitley (41) married, with five children.
Whitley saw service at the war, and was at the Gallipoli landing. Mick Hurwood, Miss McGee and Miss Elaine Dawson ( was a former Echuca girl, living in High Street ) were injured by flying fragments of steel and wood. The two girls were taken to hospital.
The entire population of 2000 turned out when a fire engine rushed up the main street at 4.30 a.m. Hundreds of people assisted the firemen in trying to quell the outbreak, but the hotel was burned to the ground. In the hotel was a 40 lb. gas cylinder, which exploded during the height of the blaze. With a terrific roar it burst into flames, and sparks shot high in the air. The crowd scattered in terror. Whitley and Constable McRae were standing in the middle of the roadway assisting the fire fighters when there was a yell from the crowd. “Look out,” shouted a number of men, and they and the police ran for safety. McRae tried to catch hold of Sergeant Whitley and threw himself flat on the ground. A piece of steel, became embedded in Whitley’s head. McRae was not injured. Pieces of steel and wood cut their way into Hurwood’s leg, and the two girls were hurt about the body. They are expected to recover. The cause of the fire is unknown. Residents of the hotel hurriedly left the building, which was a single storied one, when the outbreak occurred.