James was born in 1895, the son of Henry and Charlotte Humphrey. In 1911 (census) the family lived in Culmer when Henry worked as a carman for a coal merchant. James was 15 at the time, working as garden boy. Other children were William John (14), Eliza Anne (11), Elizabeth Kate (8), Emmeline Rose (6) and Elsie May (3). James enlisted in November 1915 when he was a gardener for Mr Welch of Fernside in Brook Road, Wormley.
In November 1917, James came home on leave; with good fortune he left Cambrai in the morning and arrived at his parents’ home in Witley that same evening. Returning to the front line, James’ battalion (part of the 20th Light Division) was soon in the Battle of Cambrai (20 November – 7 December 1917). The British hoped to breach the Hindenburg Line, launching the attack with a heavy artillery bombardment and 437 tanks. The Division broke through and advanced to the St Quentin canal where the bridge at Masnièrs collapsed as a tank was crossing it. James’ good fortune ran out and he was reported as missing in action and later presumed killed; his body either not found or not identified. James was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.