The son of Joseph and Georgina Holmes, Joseph was born in Wolverhampton in 1889. His mother died in 1899, so by 1901 Joseph was living with his widowed father and siblings Edith, William, Daisy and Dora at 261 Bilston Road, Wolverhampton. He enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (number 7853), so by 1911 he was a Lance-Corporal in the army, stationed at Arabia, Cyprus and Gibraltar.
When war broke out, he was in South Africa. After spending a short leave with his brother, Police Constable Holmes who lived at Sherwood Street, Wolverhampton, he went to France in 1914. He was promoted to Company Quartermaster-Sergeant, but he died from wounds received in action on 28 September 1915 at the 3rd General Hospital, Le Treport. He is buried at Le Treport Military Cemetery, and remembered on the St Luke’s Church memorial in Blakenhall. The Midland Counties Express on 9 October 1915 stated that his brother, who was in the retreat from Mons, had had the chance to see him in hospital before his death.