James was born in the Hurst area of Ashton under Lyne, but was living in Stockport when he enlisted into the army. He had a military family background; his father, Augustus, having been a regular soldier, serving as a sergeant with the Manchester Regiment. It's possible that Augustus and his wife had separated by the time of the Great War. James' newspaper obituary mentioned that he lived with his mother at 183 Mersey Street, Stockport. Augustus, who is recorded as next of kin by the War Graves Commission, has a post-War address of 24 Albert Street, Forton, Gosport, Hampshire.
James' war was to last only three days. The 2nd Battalion was a Regular Army unit but James was not a regular soldier. When the conflict broke out in August 1914, the 2nd Battalion was ordered back from India, arriving in England in November. A month later, it went overseas again to France. Meanwhile, James had enlisted and was undergoing training. At the end of January 1915, he was ready and will have had a few days leave back at home. On 5th February, he landed in France, joining the Battalion on the 13th, as part of a draft of 180 men who had come as replacements for casualties.
During the night of 13/14th, the Germans attacked and captured a section of British trenches near St Eloi (south of the Belgian town of Ypres). During the evening of the 14th, a counterattack was launched to retake the trenches. The Shropshires were ordered to support this action and the Battalion "stood to" all night at a farm near the village of Dickebusch. In the event, the attack was successful and the Shropshires were not required to go into action.
The next day, the Battalion relieved the attacking troops in the front line. Three men were killed during the day, most probably by shellfire. The next day, the 16th, the Battalion's War Diary notes that two more men were killed. James was one of these men. The other was James Podd, a man from South London and probably a regular soldier. Neither has a known grave - perhaps there was nothing left to bury.