James was the son of a local minister, Rev. W Corney Lee and his wife Ada Beatrice Lee. Nothing is known of his early life, except that regimental records published after the War indicate he had been born in Stockport and was living in the town when he enlisted into the army at Manchester. It is not known to which church or religious denomination Rev Lee belonged but, after the War, he was living at 166 Shaw Heath.
His original service number, 4303, is not an early one and it suggests he didn't join up until at least late 1915 and, probably, it was during 1916.
By late September 1918, the British army had been on the attack for several weeks and the War had not long left. There was, however, much hard fighting ahead and the 27th was to be no exception. The task for the troops this day would be to assault the main German fortified front line known as the Hindenberg Line. The plan was the 5th Manchesters would lead the assault and capture the initial objective on the Trescault Ridge. The 6th and 7th Battalions would then leapfrog past to capture two further positions.
On schedule, the 7th advanced at 8.20am. "A" Company immediately came under machine gun fire, both from the front and from their right flank. They pressed on capturing their objective but all the officers had become casualties and command passed to Company Sergeant Major Joyce. "C" Company had also attacked and, as with "A" had suffered numerous casualties. One platoon was reduced to just seven men. The remaining troops rushed the enemy trench taking 25 prisoners and two machine guns.
Both companies continued to edge forward but , by 11am, their fighting strength had been reduced to just 87 men (full strength would have been nearer 500), and there was no alternative but to stop.
"D" Company had had a better time crossing No Man's Land. It had come under fire but there had been relatively few casualties. They rushed the German positions at 9.40 capturing about 75 men and then pressed forward again. "B" Company had had a similar experience but came under heavy machine gun fire as it reached the German trench.
By late morning, the 6th & 7th Battalions appear to have found themselves quite isolated as the units on either side had not been able to advance as successfully. They now called for artillery support and this came down on the Germans about 45 minutes later. This allowed the Manchesters to storm forward again but their numbers were now only about 50 from the 7th Battalion and 30 from the 6th.
At about 3.30, the troops having regrouped somewhat now found themselves isolated once more and, as they were coming under very heavy fire, withdrew to a sunken lane where they dug-in.
The History of 42nd Division (of which the Battalion was part) records that 450 men of the Battalion had gone over the top at 8.20 and, by the end of the day, only 150 were left. The rest were dead, wounded or missing. James and another local man, Frank Marks, were amongst the casualties.