James was the second son of William and Emily Kershaw. In 1901, the family was living at 36 Miller Street, Stockport. William, then aged 38, worked as a cotton mill machine minder. Emily was 37. The Census, taken that year, records the children as being William (13), James (11), Edith (9), Charles (7) and Lillian (2).
James had been educated at the Reddish Day School and later went to work at the local mill of the Reddish Spinning Company. He attended evening classes at North Reddish Council School and enjoyed the social side of the classes.
By 1916, the family had moved to 152 Gorton Road, Reddish and James had been in Australia for three years. Originally, James worked as a farm labourer near Melbourne but later moved to Cairns, Queensland. He worked as an assistant in the ironmonger's shop of a Mr Williams (who originated from Reddish). He quickly fitted into his new life and was soon playing football with a local team. James tried to enlist in the army on a number of occasions but was rejected because he suffered from a hernia. He eventually had surgery to deal with the problem and was admitted to the army on 12 August 1916. James had also been active in the Red Cross Equipment Guild and, on the day he left Cairns, he was presented with a certificate recording his 100 hours voluntary service. He was reported to be the first recipient of this in North Queensland. James replied to the presentation speech saying he would treasure it and it was one of the proudest moments of his life. He appealed to those present to help with the Guild's work, saying that many of its workers had been lost as they had gone to the front and he hoped someone would take his place.
His service file is available on-line at the Australian National Archives website. This confirms he was 5' 4" tall and weighed 136 pounds. His chest measured 35 inches and he could expand it by a further 2.5 inches. James had a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He recorded that he was a Methodist.
After initial training, he embarked from Sydney on board HMAT "A40 Ceramic" on 7 October, reaching Plymouth on 21 November. On 10 December, he was admitted to Sutton Verney Hospital with ‘flu and stayed there until the 20th. On discharge from hospital, he travelled to Stockport and spent Christmas and New Year with the family. His brother, Charles, was also home, on release from hospital having been wounded in the leg in the previous April. The local newspaper reported that this was the second time Charles had been wounded. The local newspaper also reported that his brother "Jack" had served in the army but had been discharged due to a wound (this was, presumably actually James Kershw)
On 8 January 1917, he sailed from Folkestone, aboard the Princess Henrietta, landing in France. He joined his battalion on 18 January.
A major Allied attack was scheduled for 8th April. It would become known as the Battle of Arras. Before this attack on the German defensive positions on the Hindenberg Line could be undertaken, several fortified villages in front of the main enemy trench system had to be captured. One of these villages was Noreuil which was the objective for the 50th and 52nd Battalions. The village is about 10 kilometres north west of the town of Bapaume. The Australian Official History notes that the 52nd advanced but had not secured its objective on time. It eventually reached its position on a hillcrest near Lagnicourt.
On 11 May, the Reverend H Denny, a Methodist Minster at Boonah, Queensland, wrote to the Army Records Office asking if the J Kershaw listed in the previous week's casualty list was his "very great friend", James Kershaw of Cairns. The Records Office confirmed, with regret, that it was him.
James had, indeed, been killed in the advance. A letter received from an army chaplain told Mrs Kershaw that her son had been killed outright by a shell and that his body had been buried "reverently" and his effects would be forwarded in due course. James now has no known grave. Either its location was lost or it may have been destroyed by shellfire during the course of the War. He may lie in one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's cemeteries in a grave marked "Known unto God" or he may still be "out there, somewhere". His name is inscribed on the Australian Memorial to the Missing.