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James was born in Sedgley in about 1897, the son of Josiah and Sarah Ann Darby. In 1901, they were living at 14 Manor Road, Sedgley. By 1911, they were at Pinfold Lane, Merry Hill, Penn, and James had gained two siblings – Walter Jeavons and Mary Crossland.

James enlisted at Birmingham in the 1st/8th Territorial Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (service number 2881). He was killed in action on 1 July 1916. He is commemorated at the Thiepval memorial, as well as on the Bradley Memorial, and the memorial for Wolverhampton Higher Grade School.