Nothing is known of James’ early life except that regimental records published after the War indicate he was born in Lancaster. He was married to Isabel and had one son. After the War, they were living at 29 Ladysmith Street, Shaw Heath, Stockport.
James travelled to Woolwich to enlist shortly after War was declared in August 1914. It’s not known why he particularly wanted to serve with the Regiment but perhaps he had served as a regular soldier with them in his youth. The 3rd Battalion returned to the UK from Empire service in India in December 1914 and this was possibly when James joined. The troops went overseas again in January and were engaged in their first major actions during the German attack that was later officially designated as the Second Battle of Ypres, from 22 April.
On 28 April, James and his mates started a tour of duty in the front line that would last until 3 May. The Battalion’s War Diary is sparse on daily detail for this period but notes that “During all these days, we were under close artillery fire – trench mortars, bombs, etc and were harassed by (illegible) operations of enemy and reverse fire into most of our trenches, the Germans having a trench in between the fire trenches and support trench in which they had machine guns.”
The diary writer is Major Neale, then commanding the Battalion, and he is describing the chaos of the early months of trench warfare when there was not always a distinct No Man’s Land separating the two sides. Here, the Germans appear to have garrisoned a trench between the Middlesex front and second trenches.
Neale continues “Every man except sentries was worked all night every night and as much as was possible during the day in addition to long periods of standing to arms – no relief in fire trenches was possible as the whole Battalion was in fire trenches. There was a great shortage of water as the water tins arrived half empty, though despatched full.” Presumably spillages were inevitable as the tins were carried up to the front line by men trying to dodge the enemy fire.
38 men were killed during the tour of duty and many more wounded.