James was born in Wombourne in around 1883, the son of James and Mary Ann Carter. In 1891, he was living with his parents at Moseley Old Hall Cottages, alongside brothers Joseph, George, Charles and Herbert. They were at 21 Wood Street, Heath Town, by 1901, and James had become a panner of enamel. He was living with his widowed mother and widowed brother Charles Edwin (along with his nephew, Joseph Edward Carter) at the same address in 1911. By now, James was a railway porter.
He enlisted with the 2nd/6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (number 241138,). He died of wounds at home on 11 May 1918 and is buried at Heath Town Cemetery. He is commemorated at Heath Park.