James was born in the Gorton district of Manchester and, when the Census was taken in 1901, was living with his widowed mother, Elizabeth, and younger brother, Alexander, at 222 New Bank Street, Longsight. It is not known when his father, Thomas, died. At the time, James was working as a commercial clerk.
In 1911, it's believed he married Mary Makin at the Wesleyan Methiodist Chapel, Stockport Road, Levenshulme. The couple probably set up home in Bredbury which is James' place of residence recorded by the army. He enlisted at Hyde and, like John Roscoe who would be killed with him, he was first assigned to the Herefordshire Regiment (service number 5448). After training, he was reassigned to the West Kents before going overseas on active service.
On the night of 2/3 October 1917, the Battalion took over a section of the front line, south east of Veldhoek. In spite of some hostile shelling, the relief of the other unit was undertaken without significant incident. However, the men had hardly settled in, when the German infantry attacked at about 5am. They managed to get into the British trench system in several places before being forced to retreat.
30 minutes later, another attack fell on the part of the line being held by "C" Company. The men were more prepared this time and managed to stop the Germans from getting closer than 50 yards. They took cover in shell holes in No Man's Land and, as recorded in the Regimental History, offered good targets to British snipers as they tried to get back to their own line. In spite of these successes, casualties amongst the West Kents continued to climb throughout the day due to accurate shelling from the Germans.
During the evening, the Battalion closed up and prepared for an attack the next day. Heavy fighting had been underway around Ypres (now Ieper) since 31 July as the British tried to battle their way up to the Passchendaele Ridge, in a series of "bite and hold" advances. This attack would later gain the official title as the Battle of Broodseinde. The Regimental History notes "The Battalion had no very precise objective, for the enemy were not holding any well-defined trench line...on the right "C" Company was to advance 300 yards and "B" some 600 yards."
As the protective British artillery barrage started to roll across No Man's Land, the infantry followed closely behind. Mud proved to be the main obstacle, although "C" came under enfilade machine-gun fire from a pillbox, which meant the Company had to form a defensive flank. Elsewhere the attack had been more successful. There were several counter-attacks but these were beaten off. By 12.30pm, the position had been fully secured and consolidation was under way. The reserve platoons were now sent forward to help the garrison.
When the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information in the early 1920s, Mary Farmer was living at 10 Buxton Avenue, West Didsbury.