In the early months of 1880, James Mather married Sarah Ellen Beswick at Christ Church, Heaton Norris. Two years later, Joseph was born. After he left school, probably at the age of 13, he went to work in the local hat manufacturing industry and, at the time of the Great War, was working as a hatter for T & W Lees Ltd. In 1904, he had married Florence Wildon at St Thomas's Church, Stockport. He and Florrie would have five children together and they lived at 112 Oliver Street.
The local newspaper, reporting his death, stated that Joseph had enlisted on 7 May 1916. This is an error, as his service number is consistent with him enlisting between December 1914 and April 1915. In any event, there would be insufficient time for him to be have undergone training before he was killed. The 16th Battalion was formed of men previously rejected by the army because they were below the regulation height. Units like this quickly became known as "Bantam Battalions" because of the men's small stature but determination to fight. Joseph will have arrived in France in February 1916.
The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July and, whilst the British advance had stalled across most of the battlefield, the planned objectives had been gained in the south of the area. On 23 July, the Cheshires took over a section of the new front line, in captured German trenches south of Montauban. The Battalion's War Diary does not give a detailed account of the coming days but notes that the trenches were occasionally shelled, killing two soldiers and wounding several more.
At some point, Joseph became one of the wounded. He would have received urgent attention from the Battalion's Medical Officer before being stretchered some way behind the front line to the Advanced Dressing Station. Little more than bandaging Joseph's wounds would have taken place here and he was further evacuated to 21st Casualty Clearing Station at Corbie. Military surgeons at this field hospital would have done all they could to save his life, but without success.