James was the second child of Michael and Jane (nee Gafney). The couple had married in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport in the early 1880s and would have six children together before she died in 1900, aged 36. When the Census was taken in 1901, the family was living in a "two up, two down" house at 66 Daw Bank Street.
Nothing is known of James's life in the years from the Census to when he joined the army in about 1915. He was assigned to the South Lancashire Regiment (service number 24045) but, after training, he was transferred to the Fusiliers. He probably went overseas with the newly formed 19th Battalion in June 1916.
20 June 1917 would see a major British attack near the French town of Cambrai. It is considered to be the first "all arms" assault with artillery, aircraft, tanks and infantry coming together to punch through the German lines. James and his mates were not involved on the first day but moved into position on the night of the 22nd/23rd ready to take up the attack on German positions in Bourlon Wood. The attack was scheduled for 10.30am on the 23rd and, in this sector, 12 tanks would support the infantry.
The British artillery bombardment opened on time and the tanks moved to the attack. Following about 200 yards behind, came the infantry and the Fusiliers started to move into the Wood itself at about 10.45. The Regimental History recounts "Machine-gun fire from the wood was slight. About 100 yards beyond the edge of the wood the Battalion halted, reorganised and checked positions, for the undergrowth was fairly thick. Aligned and in good order the Battalion continued the advance. The enemy held a series of posts and were undoubtedly shaken by the tanks ploughing slowly through the undergrowth and ponderously threading their way between the trees. It was, however, a bad place for tanks. Gradually they dropped out."
The various German posts were overwhelmed and, by 11.30, the first main objective - a sunken road running through the middle of the Wood - had been secured. Here, they reorganised again and then pressed forward, coming out of the northern edge of the Wood at 12.30pm. They dug in to secure the gains. Shortly afterwards, the German artillery opened up a heavy fire on the positions and this was maintained until just after 3pm when their infantry counter-attacked. There was now some serious close-quarters fighting with the British first being forced into a small withdrawal and then counterattacking themselves to retake the positions. Sometime during the day James had been killed. His body was never recovered and identified.