When James was conscripted into the army, in November 1916, he was a successful businessman living in St Annes on Sea. He was a coal merchant and also owned an ironmongery business on Alexandria Drive and was a well known member of the town's Traders' Association. He lived with his wife, Florence, and their two children at 81 St Andrews Road South and had moved to the area in early 1913
The 1901 Census shows that the men in James' family were all in business. His father, also called James, was a hardware dealer and his older brothers, Robert and Alfred, were respectively a coal salesman and a pawnbroker's manager. At the time, James was a travelling salesman dealing in hardware, perhaps for his father's business. The family lived at 53 Great Underbank, Stockport and the Census also records that James' mother was Esther Hopwood and that he had a younger sister and brother, Edna and Harold.
Regimental records show that James went to Lancaster to enlist and, after training, arrived in France only about six weeks before he was killed. On 9 July 1917, James' Battalion was relieved from the front line and went into reserve at Derby Camp, approximately 2 kilometres north west of the village of Vlamertinghe (itself 5km west of Ypres/Ieper). Although this was intended as a rest, the men were kept busy. Each night they provided working parties to the forward areas, either carrying stores towards the front line or engaged on burying communication cables. They would sleep during the day and this is when James was killed.
His Captain later wrote to Florence "We had just returned to our billets and he was sleeping in his shelter when a shot from a long-range gun came over and killed him instantly. Death was immediate and he would not suffer. Myself and the whole Company assure you of our deepest and most sincere sympathy. We mourn the loss not only of a good soldier, but of a good comrade as well. He was buried in the military Cemetery well behind the fighting area."