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James was born in Wolverhampton in 1881, the son of John and Catherine Westwood. Catherine died in 1901, when James was living with his widowed father at 7 and 9 Hospital Street, Bilston, with his siblings, John, Elizabeth, William, Thomas and Mary. In 1905, James enlisted with the Worcestershire Regiment (number 9045), serving in South Africa. His trade was given as boiler maker. He had two children with Mary Jones, Edith (1906) and Catherine (1910). By 1911 he was stationed at Dover Castle, Kent, with his regiment. Later that year, he married Mary in Holy Trinity Church, Bilston, and they lived at 39 Smith Street, Bilston. The couple had two further children, John J. (1913) and Violet M. (1915).

James was mobilised with the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment in October 1914, and served in France. In February 1918, it was recorded that he was suffering from general paralysis, which was aggravated by his war service, “(stress of campaign)”. In April 1918 he was discharged as permanently unfit for military service of any kind. On 20 April 1918, he was awarded the Silver War Badge (number 407267), but unfortunately he died on 22 May 1918. He is buried in Bilston Cemetery and is remembered on the High Town Ward Roll of Honour.

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