Nothing is known about James, other than Regimental records published after the War indicate he had been born in Salford and was living in Stockport when he enlisted at Manchester.
His service number confirms that, at the beginning of September 1914 , he joined the third of the "Pals Battalions" being formed by the Manchester Regiment. The 18th was entirely recruited in just two days - the 5th and 7th of the month and James was assigned to No. 8 Platoon, "B" Company. He will have gone overseas in November 1915 and, during the summer and autumn of 1916, he will have fought at the Battle of the Somme.
The day on which James was killed is very well documented. It was the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, often known as Passchendaele. The general history of the day can be easily found elsewhere and the events as they affected many individual units are well chronicled in either their official histories or the battalion's war diary written at the time. However, for the 18th Battalion, the details are extremely sketchy.
Somewhat starkly, the Battalion's History records only "At 3.35am (zero) on the 31st the 18th Manchesters advanced across Sanctuary Wood and, by 5.30am, succeeded in capturing its final objective, the Blue Line east of Stirling Castle"
Stirling Castle was a heavily defended German stronghold, fortified with machine guns. It was, of course, not a castle but a mound of earth slightly higher than the surrounding flat Flanders landscape. The History notes that the officers' maps were of no use as the artillery shelling had destroyed all the landmarks - the whole landscape "was one vast barren tract of shell holes".
Units lost direction and the advance had deteriorated into "a series of small attacks delivered by independent bodies of men, twenty or thirty at most, led perhaps by a junior subaltern or a sergeant or corporal. This kind of fighting depends for its success on good discipline and individual courage and initiative and it is a tribute to the Battalion that in such conditions they pressed steadily forward and won."