James was the son of William and Ann Wharmby of 42 Torkington Street, Stockport (and previously, 12 Isaac Street). Nothing is known of his early life until he enlisted into the army. This was not early in the War and may have been around late 1915 or early 1916. His service number indicates that he was originally assigned to the 32nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. This was a Territorial unit which remained in the UK throughout the War. Six digit service numbers were not issued to Territorials until the beginning of 1917 and it must have been after this time that he was sent overseas on active service and was posted to the 16th Battalion.
In the opening months of 1917, James’ older sister, Frances, got married. Her husband was Wilbur Johnson and they set up home at 55 Adelaide Road. Almost certainly, James would not have been given leave to attend.
Overnight on the 29/30 September, half the Battalion moved from Charterhouse Camp to relieve the 1st Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the front line near the Belgian village of Langemarck. The remaining two companies “C” and “D” moved to Dulwich Camp and James was amongst them.
On the 1st, “C” and “D” moved forward relieve “A” and “B”. The times of reliefs could often be predicated by each side and it was a favourite time for the artillery to bombard their opponents’ lines in the hope of catching troops away from the protection of their trenches. This is exactly what happened, killing seven men and wounding another 17. James’ officer wrote to Mr & Mrs Wharmby “He was in my platoon, was at all times cool and courageous and in every respect a splendid soldier and his loss has been very much felt by myself and his platoon comrades. On our way to the trenches, he was unfortunately struck by a portion of shell which caused instantaneous death. He was buried where he fell by his chums and a cross was erected to mark his grave.”
Over the course of the War, the location of James’ grave was lost or it was destroyed by shellfire in later fighting. He is now commemorated on the nearby Memorial to the Missing.