Percy's family home was at 6 Pendlebury Street., Stockport and he shared it with his mother, Mrs Sarah Ann Roberts, and his brothers, Arthur and John (both of whom served during the War). It has not been possible to identify if his father had died by this time.
Percy's service number indicates he enlisted in the army in November or December 1914. The 15th Cheshires was a "Bantam Battalion" - the original members of which were all men below 5' 2" in height and who had previously been rejected as being under regulation height. After training, the Battalion went on active service in February 1916. Percy was reported to have been wounded in July 1916, during the first weeks of the Battle of the Somme. He rejoined his unit in January 1917.
Around the year 2000, a Stockport house was being renovated and a number of letters from Percy to his mother and brothers were found. They are written in pencil and are undated. Copies were sent to the webmaster of this site and the extracts are as the originals were written. The first was sent just after Percy went overseas:
"Just a few lines to let you know I am doing very well and hoping you are the same. Mother, I arrived in France on Thursday afternoon...it was fine coming across the sea me and J Dean came all the way together and we had some fun...."
It ‘ll be seen from this and later extracts that Percy often thinks of being home but it is also important for his mother to send some comforts - especially cigarettes - or tabs as he calls them.
"Mother, I am being very careful of myself I keep my head down and it is the best thing you can do here...we are having some nice weather here it is same as summer we are as warm as could be......Mother I received two letters from you and I got the tabs you send me. Mother you can send me a few tabs but I keep getting a lot of tabs from Jimmy Oldham they keep giving us tabs with our rations and Jimmy Oldham keeps giving me all his tabs he gets and Joe Murphy gives me all his tabs but are not the same as Woodbines I sooner have Woodbines. Mother we keep going in the trenches and we keep coming out for a rest we go and dig trenches in the night Mother we having good food here we can't grumble at it......Tell Joe Riley I could do with a few pints in his public we can't get good beer out here. Send me a few bars of hard chocolate it will go down well here we can't get good chocolate here and send me a bar of sented soap."
The next appears to be after he was wounded in 1916 and had been discharged from military hospital. "Mother, I have come out of hospital now and I am better than ever. Mother, it was my place to go in the Hospital because I was very bad and it was a good job I did. I received your parcel and I was very glad the chocolate you send me it was very nice and I enjoy it. Mother I have send you letter to send me handchiefs and a few hard caramels....I have been in hospital 10 days so I am alright now I shall be going back to Jimmy Oldham and Joe Murphy. They don't give me their tabs now they give them to another fellow never mind I can get tabs when I want. ....Mother, tell Joe Riley I could just sup a few pints in his public never mind it might not be long before we are in the public and I hope so."
In a final extract Percy writes "Mother I was very pleased with the parcel you sent me and I did relish the boiled ham and the bread. Mother next parcel you send don't send any chocolate or cocoa I have got plenty send me a few more tabs....Mother you say Jack Stubburt is coming out here and he wish was back but it is a lot better in the trenches now going for six days and six days out.....I have given up bomb throwing I did not care fore it and it is as well I can't come across Harry Cotton yet but we have plenty of Royal Engineers working with us but I can't see him he perhaps be further up the line. .....Mother I see they are bringing up the discharged men for home service. Mother never mind the war will not last for ever and we shall have a burster if I have the luck to come to Stockport that what I am expecting to do. ....I keep enjoy myself we keep going and have a few drinks when we come out of the trenches. Tell Joe Riley that me and George Dean are doing very well but he never thinks to send us a few tabs. Goodnight and God bless you all."
In the early morning of 22 October, James and his comrades were in positions south of the Houthulst Forest, to the north of the Belgian town of Ypres (now Ieper). They were to be held in reserve but ready to go forward to support an attack by the 16th Battalion. At 5.30am, the 16th attacked on schedule. Its advance is described here.
During the day, two companies of the 15th Battalion were ordered forward into action. In the evening, the whole Battalion took over the front line from the 16th Cheshires. They were still there on the 24th. Percy's officer later wrote to Mrs Roberts "We had been in action for two days holding a captured position and, on the evening your son was killed, were very heavily shelled. During the bombardment, your son was killed instantaneously from the shock of a shell and he did not suffer any pain. His platoon commander, who was in the same shell hole, told me that throughout the day, your son, in spite of constant rain and shelling, was keeping everyone round him cheerful, making jokes and helping all to bear the strain."
Percy has no known grave.