James is known to have been born in the Heaviley district of Stockport and is probably the boy of the right age (10) who, in 1901, was living with his father, William, at 1 Back Harrison Street. William, then aged 61, worked as a labourer and was a widower.
It's thought that, in 1910, James married Ellen Flanagan at St Paul's Church, Portwood. The couple lived at 65 Read Street with their child. Before the War, James had worked as a carter. His service number suggests that he was a pre-War Special Reservist, joining the army around 1912. The Special Reserve were men who joined the regular army and undertook their training but then returned to civilian life. They would then be "called up" as and when needed to ensure the battalion was kept at full strength. James would have been receiving pay as a reservist and had to undertake regular training to maintain his paid status. He was, almost certainly, called up as soon as War was declared.
The Battle of the Somme had started on1 July 1916 and, by 5 November, it was drawing to a close. The day before, orders had been issued that the Fusiliers would make a small advance towards the top of the Le Transloy ridge. "C" and "D" Companies would undertake the attack and the men gathered in Dewdrop Trench in the early hours. The officers gathered to read the written orders about 11am. As the Regimental History recounts "The attack was to be carried out by strong patrols pushed up over the crest to seize and hold the ground, the remainder of the companies to advance later and consolidate the ground thus gained. Zero had not been fixed but would be notified later: in the event of time not permitting notification... the opening of the French bombardment would be taken as zero...."
The officers were still checking the orders when the French artillery opened fire. It was then 11.10am. The officers dashed to their posts and immediately ordered the men "over the top" and they swept on up the slope. They were just in time as, almost as soon as they had left, the German counterbarrage fell on the British front line trench - now catching "A" Company which had moved up to man it. "B" Company, in support, now also advanced but came under heavy fire form a machine gun on their right. The three companies pressed on, captured the ridge and took cover in shell holes. The men immediately started to dig in, converting the shell holes into a new front line.
Sometime during the day, James had been shot. He was evacuated to an army field hospital nearby - either 34th or 2/2 London Casualty Clearing Station - at Meaulte. The chaplain later wrote saying it had been a severe wound and despite every effort to save his life, he had died. "He was most patient and resigned. His loss you will feel keenly but you can ever be proud that he was such a fine man who was willing to lay down his life for his country."