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James was born in Wolverhampton in 1879, the son of James and Ellen Marion. His father died in 1890, so by 1891, he was living with his mother, brothers George and Joseph, sister Martha and aunt Sarah Wolcroft, at the Back of 34 Dudley Street. He was living with the same people at Prestfold Cottage, Wolverhampton Road, in 1901, by which date he had become a motor polisher. He married Sarah Elizabeth Harris in 1901.In 1911, he was living at 60 Ablow Street, Wolverhampton, with his wife, Sarah, daughers Doris Lilian and Gladys Ellen, son James, and his cousin, Alice Edith Wooley.

James joined the 6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (number 746). He first served in France from 5 March 1915, and rose to the rank of Acting Sergeant-Major. He died of wounds on 20 August 1915 at St Omer. He is buried at the Longuenesse (St Omer)Souvenir Cemetery in France, and is commemorated on St Paul’s Church war memorial.