James was one of six brothers to serve during the War and the only one not to return. Their parents were William and Ann and they had two sisters (Sarah Jane and Ann). In 1901, when the Census was taken, the family was living in just four rooms at 3 Hyde Street in the Portwood area of Stockport (later moving to 82 Chapel Street).
By the time of the Great War, James had married Norah and they lived at 18 Vienna Road with their child. He worked in Reddish for Herusby Ltd (? Sp). He originally enlisted into one of the Territorial Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment. His service number, 3724, suggests this might have been in 1916. However, his medal entitlement records at the National Archives confirm that he didn't serve abroad with the Cheshires and was probably transferred to the Machine Gun Corps when he finished his training.
Companies of the Corps operated heavy Vickers machine guns that were used to support infantry attacks or to break up enemy attacks. They would be deployed along the trench system ready to go into action. On 1 June 1917, after a period in reserve, James and his mates took over positions in trenches between the village of Monchy-le-Preux and the River Scarpe. It was a quiet time. On the day that he was killed the Company's War Diary only notes that they were building new gun emplacements and strengthening the trench. No casualties are recorded and it is not known what happened to James. His officer later wrote "His great tranquillity and calmness of life were the counterpart of his death: he did not suffer. There was no-one more popular with those who knew him - ever ready to help when help was asked and a never-failing source of strength in the most trying circumstances with his wonderful placidity. He died doing his duty, in this he could not fail for he usually did more. We offer our deepest sympathy in you sad bereavement."
The knowledge that James did not suffer confirms that he was killed outright. His lack of known grave perhaps suggests that he was killed by a direct hit from a shell and was, literally, blown to pieces.
The local newspaper, reporting his death, mentioned his brothers, all then serving. William, the eldest, was also in France. Herbert was in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Harry and Jack were in south west England, perhaps in training. Harold was in hospital with trench fever and the youngest brother, Tom, had been wounded and was in a Brighton hospital.