James was born in Wolverhampton in 1888, the son of Charles Frederic and Fanny Keen Thurstan. In 1891 they were living at No 2 Church Villas, Upper Penn, Wolverhampton, together with James’s brothers Charles Reginald and John, and a servant, Eliza Hobbis. They were at the same address in 1901 and again in 1911, and James had an additional two siblings – Robert Harold and Margaret. By 1911, James was an engineer’s draughtsman.
James enlisted first with the Army Cyclist Corps and became Acting Sergeant (number 2863), and later with the Tank Corps. He first served in Western Europe from 28 February 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross as part of the King’s birthday honours, as heralded in the Express & Star on 6 June 1918.
On 16 July 1918, he married Edyth Mary Pitfield at St George’s Church, Fordington, Dorset. The couple went on to have two children – John and Michael – in 1920 and 1922. He died on 18 February 1966 in Wolverhampton at the age of 77, and his wife died just under a month later on 17 March the same year. The value of his effects was £2197.