Little is known about James. He was born in Stockport, the son of George, a cotton spinner, and Martha Woodall. When the Census was taken, the family was living at 36 Greystoke Street. Perhaps unusually for a time when people married young, the couple were in their 40s and James appears to have been their only child.
James died whilst at an army field hospital of wounds he’d received in the previous days. The Third Battle of Ypres (often known as Passchendaele) had been underway since 31 July. The most often mentioned feature of the battle is the mud which had been caused by the almost constant rain since the afternoon of the first day. On 16 October, James and his mates started another tour of duty in the front line trenches. There would be no major attacks in this sector but it was still a very dangerous place to be. As usual, the tour in the trenches was expected to be two or three days but this is not how it turned out.
The Battalion’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, does not have a daily account of activities but after they had been relieved back to billets on the 25th, the Diary was written up with the following summary:-
“On completion of the relief, the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers had been holding the line for a continuous period of nine days. The conditions were most severe; the men lying in shell-holes which were practically half full of water. As a result of weather conditions, enemy shelling, gas shelling, the Battalion suffered heavy casualties and a large number of the men were rendered non-effective.”
In the previous nine days, the Fusiliers had lost 25 killed or missing; 192 wounded and a further 146 incapacitated through sickness.