James was the only son of Charles and Ann Wilson, of Compstall. He had been born in the village in about 1886 and his father had died when he was three. He furthered his statutory education by attending Compstall Wesleyan Sunday School and, as an adult, was it's Honorary Secretary for 16 years. Like his mother, he was a calico weaver at Compstall Mill. A committed trade unionist, he was Secretary of the local branch of the Hyde Weavers and Winders Union.
In the summer of 1916, he travelled to Buxton to enlist in the army and, during a period of leave, he married Alice Gibson, on 16 September 1916. After completing his military training, James went overseas in December 1916.
James was one of the Battalion's signallers and, not too long after arriving on the Western Front, he wrote home saying he often had to work in trenches so deep in water that his coat tails would float on the water as he laid the telephone cables. He had started to develop rheumatism as a consequence. During the spring of 1917, the Battalion had to undertake a 20 mile march, but after only seven, James had been unable to continue. He was hospitalised, in France, for 15 weeks and only returned to his unit in June.
On 31 July, the Battalion attacked on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). They had taken the first of their objectives, but enemy fire had prevented any further advance. At 6pm, the South Lancashires fought off a heavy enemy counter-attack. Early on 1 August, it started to rain and, soon, all the advanced positions were flooded and the ground was a morass of mud. It was impossible for troops to be relieved and many of them received no rations until the evening of 2 August.
Throughout 3 June, they were subjected to very heavy shellfire but the Battalion held its line in shell holes and half demolished buildings until they were finally relieved in the evening. Sometime during the day, James had been killed, no doubt by the shelling. If there was anything left of him to bury, then his grave was probably destroyed by the shelling in the remaining 16 months of fighting. He now has no known final resting place.