James was the son of William James Allen, a watchmaker, of 3 Norbury Street, off Wellington Road South. Four of William’s sons would serve in the army – James is thought to be the only one who did not come home. Nothing is known of his early life but before the War, he worked for Dean & Co, a firm of leather manufacturers with premises on Princes Street. He was married and had two children.
James’ service number, above, confirms he originally joined a Cheshire Territorial unit of the Field Artillery. When this number was issued at the beginning of 1917, James had been in the army for some time and is thought to have enlisted towards the beginning of 1915 when he was originally given the number of 1561.
The Stockport Express, in its edition of 12 August 1915, published a photograph of James, then a sergeant, along with two of his brothers – Sergeant W A Allen and Gunner A Allen. William Allen wrote, whilst they were in training at Redhill Camp, “We were billeted at Chester in the first place, then we moved to Northampton and next time we came here. This is a nice place but very hilly. Stockport is nearly flat as compared with this part of the country. We find soldiering a healthy life – we all look and feel fit as fiddles.”
Probably towards the end of the year, James will have gone overseas on active service. It is not known with which unit he originally served but the fact that he retained his Territorial service number confirms that his transfer to the 38th Brigade (part of the pre-War regular army) was after the beginning of 1917. From the beginning of the year, the Brigade became known as an “Army Brigade”, effectively a re-enforcing unit which could be attached to any of the Army’s Divisions to provide additional firepower. There are no day-to-day records remaining of these Brigades so it is not possible to know the circumstances in which James was killed. Most artillerymen, however, were killed by enemy artillery which had targeted the gun positions. By then James had been promoted to Battery Sergeant Major – the senior non-commissioned officer amongst the Battery’s 200 troops.
After he was killed, six of the sergeants wrote to his wife expressing their sincere sympathy and telling her that James had been respected by everyone.
He had been a committed Christian and was a chorister at St Mary’s Church. On 20 October, mention was made of his death at the evening service. His fellow choristers sang “O, rest in the Lord” and the organist played the Funeral March.