|This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (March 2010)|
He was born in 1908, one of six children born to Ned Maley, a native of County Mayo and Anne Sherlock from Glasgow, and raised in Stevenson Street in the Calton district of Glasgow. He was sent to work as a boy to help support his family. His neighborhood was considered a "hotbed of socialism" in the 1920s, which helped radicalize Maley politically and thus began his embrace of socialism, and, after 1932, communism. In 1929 and 1930, at the onset of the Great Depression, Maley lived in Cleveland, Ohio with relatives. The economic effects of the Depression caused him to return to his native Glasgow.
In 1932, he joined the Communist Party and denounced fascism and "the inequalities and social injustice" in Britain at the time. 
Spanish Civil war
In 1936, Maley went to fight in Spain after hearing La Pasionaria on the radio. He was captured during the Battle of Jarama in February 1937 when General Francisco Franco's nationalists were rebuffed in Madrid.
As a captured "foreigner", Maley would normally have been executed immediately. However, the edict was not carried out in the case of British prisoners of war. This was due in part to pressure from the British government citing the Geneva Convention, and, in part, thanks to Italian pressure for "swaps" of British POWs for Italian soldiers being held by the Spanish republican government. Maley was finally released in a prisoner swap. At his mother's request, he did not return to Spain.
World War II
After he was demobbed, Maley worked for the next dozen years laying tracks for British Railways, and, afterwards, as a building labourer for the Glasgow Corporation. He remained politically active, especially as a trade unionist and tenants' association campaigner.
He married Anne Watt in March 1948. They had nine children. Although he had been raised Catholic, Maley sent his nine children to non-denominational schools. He often borrowed books from the Book Exchange at Gilmorehill, giving his children a week to read them before taking them back in return for others.
The story of Maley's capture in Spain and the strange way that the family found out he was still alive inspired a play written by two of his sons, John and Willy, From the Calton to Catalonia. It was first performed in December 1990 in the Lithgow Theatre, Glasgow.
James Maley died on 9 April 2007 in his native Glasgow from pneumonia, aged 99, survived by, in his immediate family, his wife, nine children and five grandchildren.