(L to R) Distinguished Service Order; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves
James was born in late September or early October 1880 in Elland, near Halifax in Yorkshire. His father was called Hiram and his mother was Alice. He had one older sister: Edith Ann, and 3 younger brothers: Arthur, Charles and Lawrence.
Hiram was a quarryman, and the family lived at Upper Edge in Elland. James did not follow in his father's footsteps; in 1901 he was attending Bornigh Road Teacher Training College in Brentford, Middlesex. After his teacher training James entered the University of Cambridge in 1907 to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA). We don't know what subject he studied or which College he was a member of. He also obtained a Master of Arts degree (MA) from the University of London.
After graduating James began to work for the Board of Education as one of His Majesties Inspectors of Schools, he was responsible for Geography examinations. We don't know where he was based, but in 1911 he was living with his sister Edith and her husband John Crowther in Flixby, Yorkshire.
The First World War broke out in August 1914, and James enlisted in the 2nd Public Schools Battalion that was being formed by men who had attended a public school or university, but were considered too old to apply to be officers. This unit later became the 19th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. James was given the service number 179, and joined the unit on the 15th September at Maidstone in Kent. When he enlisted James was 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall and weighed 156 pounds.
James trained with this unit until the 27th March 1915. The Army needed more officers, so James was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 24th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a 'Pals' unit being raised by the men of Oldham, on the outskirts of Manchester. James commanded III Platoon in A Company as a Lieutenant. He had been promoted to Temporary Captain by the 1st June 1915. During September James played on A Company's cricket team whilst they were training at Belton Park near Grimsby in Lincolnshire.
The 24th Battalion was sent to France on the 8th November 1915, and spent most of the next 2 months involved in construction behind the lines. They served in the front lines during February 1916, but were then converted into a Pioneer Battalion, to be used for digging and construction work.
The 24th Battalion fought on the Somme during July 1916. During this time James was in command of a Company. At some point he was promoted to Temporary Major and became Second in Command of the 24th Battalion. He acted as Commanding Officer at times during this period. On the 22nd January 1917 he took command of the Battalion in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This was a popular promotion amongst the men of the 24th Battalion, as James was well known to them, and highly respected.
James took over a battalion that was under strength and constantly in demand to carry out work. In March and April James led them as they helped build British positions around Bapaume, as part of the Battle of Arras.
On the night of the 4th May 1917 the 24th Battalion was involved in building a trench towards the village of Bullecourt, which was occupied by the Germans. The situation in this area was unclear, so James decided to go forwards himself to better understand the situation and lead his men. As he set off forwards with his batman they were wounded by the explosion of a German shell.
James was taken to a Dressing Station for treatment, but his injuries were too severe and he died later that day. He was 36 years old. His batman was called Robert Archer, he also died.
James and Robert were buried in Mory L'Abbye Cemetery. It contains 518 British graves. James' grave reference is I. C. 10.
The 24th Battalion mourned James. He had an excellent relationship with his men; he was hard on them when necessary, but also 'hard on himself' and 'devoted to the Battalion'.
James had never married, so after he died John Crowther acted as executor of his will. John contacted the War Office in London to arrange the return of James' personal items. These were sent to John in Flixby during late May. There were 2 identity discs, 1 wallet, 1 cheque book, 4 photos, several letters, 1 cigarette case, 2 tobacco pouches, 1 wristwatch and case, 2 knives and 2 pipes.
On the 25th May 1917 James was Mentioned in Despatches, and on the 4th June he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership and 'distinguished service in the field'.
James' medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in June 1951. John Crowther's medal was donated at the same time. .