James was born locally in about 1880, the son of Edward and Hannah. He is known to have had an older brother, James, who was born about three years before him. When the census was taken in 1901, he was living at the family home of 25 Bowden Street, Shaw Heath but later in the year he married his fiancée, Clara Watson, at Christ Church, Heaton Norris. Reporting his death, the local newspaper would record, wrongly, that he was unmarried and lived with his mother at 40 Bowden Street.
He was associated with St Matthew's Church in Edgeley and, before enlisting into the army, worked for a Mr Briscoe as a pavior (the census had recorded his occupation as railway labourer). He joined up, at Manchester, on 22 April 1915 and cannot have been at the front for long when he was killed.
The Battalion's War Diary, at the National Archives, notes that on 28 November, the men were in the trenches when a shell landed amongst "C" Company. It killed three men and wounded two more. James has no known grave and it is probably the case that the three men killed were literally blown to bits and it was not possible to identify who was who when it came to burial.
The following year, Clara remarried and became Mrs William Crosthwaite. In the early 1920s, she was living at 274 Heaton Lane, Stockport.