James was born in Surrey on 25 May 1932. He grew up in Manchester and then moved to Hampshire, where his mother had originally come from, about 1943-1945. He joined the boy's army at 14, was posted to Singapore, then returned to England and married Miriam. He was then posted to Korea but didn't get further than Singapore where his children Nigel and Yvonne were born. The family remained in Singapore for six years, and then returned to England. James then received a posting to Germany for two years, after which he retired from the army and returned to England.
James' brother-in-law had migrated to Melbourne in 1959 and was working making oil refinery tanks at the GF Thompsons factory in Footscray. At the age of 31 James decided to join him and in 1963 James, Miriam and their two children migrated to Australia as '10 pound tourists'. They came out on the Stratheden, a P&O Orient line ship on its last migrant journey. They had a lower cabin berth as they submitted a late application. They recall the trip as enjoyable, and the food as good, but remember that the Red Sea was rough and the portholes had to be closed. They travelled from England via the Suez, Colombo, Fremantle to Melbourne. During the voyage James avidly collected the menus and approached the steward to obtain extras but he was unable to collect a full set.
On arrival in Australia they stayed with James' brother-in-law, however they purchased land in Altona almost immediately, where they have lived ever since. James worked at GF Thompsons for 21 years.