James was born within the parish of St Paul's C of E Church, Portwood, Stockport. As young man, he joined the army, serving for 14 years, before returning to live permanently in Stockport. He and his wife made their home at 60 Hatherlow Street, Portwood and he found a job at the locomotive works in Heaton Mersey.
When war was declared in August 1914, James was quick to re-enlist, perhaps rejoining a Battalion of his old regiment, on 22 September.
The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July 1916 and, by November, was petering out, both sides exhausted. On 1 November, James and his comrades moved from reserve positions at Aveluy, into the front line, taking up positions in Stuff Trench. The Battalion's War Diary records that the trenches were in a very bad state, presumably much damaged by enemy shelling. That day, three men were killed by the bombardment and another 6 wounded. Thursday, 2 November was pleasant autumn day. There was some light rain and the temperatures were in the upper-50s Fahrenheit. The Diary records, simply "Trenches heavily shelled. Casualties: 2 died of wounds, 17 wounded."
James was one of the two men who died. He would have received attention from the Battalion's own medical officer just behind the front line and was in the process of being evacuated to a military hospital by the Field Ambulance when he died.