James Kirk was born at "Willow Bank", Ladybridge Road, Adswood, on 27 January 1897. When the 1901 Census was taken, the Kirks were living at Wilmslow Road, Gatley. His parents were James, a Dyers Townsman (travelling salesman) and Rachel and he had an older sister, Jessie, and a recently born brother, Reginald.
At some point, the family to 530 Edge Lane, Droylsden. His education was first with Miss Chadwick of Cheadle Hulme and at Brentnall Street Stockport. After the move to Droylsden, his schooling continued at North Road United Methodist School in Clayton. James was a keen sportsman, playing football for the Seymour's Old Boys Association and cricket for the Edge Lane Club.
On leaving school, he worked as a clerk in the warehouse of Ogden & Madeley in Manchester. On 10 October 1914, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the 2/6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. This was a second line Territorial unit and, after training, James left for Gallipoli in July 1915, as one of the replacements for the many casualties suffered by the first line 1/6th Battalion in the previous two months. He arrived on 12 August, too late to be involved in the major actions, but he would have been under regular artillery and sniper fire from the Turkish army. In the November, he was promoted to lance corporal but was then evacuated from the Peninsula, suffering from frostbite and spent six weeks in hospital in Cairo.
On his release from hospital in January 1916, he joined the Camel Transport Corps. This new unit was formed mainly from men who had served at Gallipoli. The Corps was divided into companies of which each had several officers and senior NCOs, together with a number of local men to actually drive the camels. Each company would have around 500 camels and would be used to carry stores across the desert. There are suggestions that he acted as his company's quartermaster sergeant but, if he did, then he never got the proper rank to recognise it. A year later, he returned to the 1/6th and moved with the Battalion to France in March 1917. The summer saw quick promotion for James - first to Corporal on 16 July, then less than two weeks later to Acting Sergeant. This rank was made permanent on 11 August.
He was home for leave at Christmas and with a recommendation for a commission. He joined the 17th Officer Cadet Battalion at Kinmel Park in North Wales on 8 February 1918. In June 1918, he was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1/10th Battalion on 25 June. The Commander of the Cadet Battalion wrote in his file that James "was inclined to be slack but has improved a great deal lately. If he takes trouble with himself, he will make a fine officer." James did not go overseas until October when he was attached to the 2nd Battalion, joining them on the 13th in France.
Just before 6am, on 4 November 1918, James was with two companies of the Battalion, and other troops, on the towpath of the Sambre-Oise canal, near the village of Ors in northern France. The Germans were entrenched on the opposite bank. The key to the success of the attack would be the ability of Royal Engineers units to construct rafts and pontoons that would allow the British troops to storm across.
There is nothing to add to the extract from the London Gazette, 3 January 1919, which confirmed his posthumous Victoria Cross award.
"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty north of Ors on 4 November 1918, whilst attempting to bridge the Oise canal. To cover the bridging of the canal he took a Lewis gun and, under intense machine gun fire, paddled across the canal on a raft and, at a range of ten yards, expended all his ammunition. Further ammunition was paddled across to him and he continuously maintained a covering fire for the bridging party from a most exposed position till killed at his gun. The supreme contempt of danger and magnificent self-sacrifice displayed by this gallant officer prevented many casualties and enabled two platoons to cross the bridge before it was destroyed."
James had been wounded in the face and arm, before being shot through the head. He died instantly.
The Official History of the War recounts "The attempt by 2nd Manchesters and 16th Lancashire Fusiliers to cross the canal, north of Ors, was unsuccessful. 218th Field Company, Royal Engineers, threw two bridges, but the southern one was smashed after two platoons had crossed, machine gun fire prevented the use of the other and over two hundred casualties were suffered."
James is buried alongside the poet Wilfred Owen who served with him in the 2nd Battalion and was also killed. Four Victoria Crosses were won in that action. The War ended a week later.
James is also remembered on the Droylsden War Memorial.