James Hamilton was born in the summer of 1896, the seventh of the nine children of George and Isabella Hamilton of Middlesbrough. His parents were both borderers, his father from just north of the Scottish border and his mother from Berwick-upon-Tweed. George was a clerk in the Customs Service, and several of his children became teachers.
James attended the Wesleyan School in Middlesbrough and Darlington Grammar School. In the Michelmas term of 1896 he matriculated at Durham University as an Unattached Arts student and a Foundation Scholar. He received an admission scholarship of £70 in 1896; in 1897 he was an Exhibitioner on a £30 grant and in 1898 on £15. He passed his first and second-year examinations for a B.A. in Classical and General Literature, and graduated with Second Class Honours in Classics in the Easter term of 1899.
On 1 October 1898 he was admitted as pensioner to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, was made an Open Scholar in 1900, and graduated in1901, again with a Second Class B.A. in Classical Tripos. Over the succeeding fifteen years Hamilton taught at The King’s Hospital, Dublin (1901-1905), Blackburn Grammar School (1905-1908), Hampton Grammar School (1905-1910), and Heversham School, a day and boarding school in Westmorland (1910-1915).
James Hamilton left Heversham School to enlist on 28 July 1915, apparently with the 4th Cumberland and Westmorland Battalion of the Border Regiment. While the 4th Battalion never served in France, being based in India throughout the conflict, some men with 4th Battalion numbers did serve in France, attached to other units. James Hamilton must have been one of these men, and is likely to have been attached to 1/5th Battalion, although his name is not among those officers listed in the battalion’s war diary in June and October 1916. The 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment was deployed in France with the 151 (Northumbrian) Brigade in the 50th Division alongside several battalions of the Durham Light Infantry. On his last August leave Hamilton went up to London where he joined the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps on 2 September 1915. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant on probation on 27 January 1916 into the Border Regiment, and his medal card records him as a member of the 4th Battalion, serving in France.
Second Lieutenant James Hamilton was killed on 5 November 1916, though his death was not officially reported until 18 November. He is buried in the Warlencourt British Cemetery, alongside those who with him attacked the Butte de Warlencourt that day. The 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment was in reserve in this battle, and was called in to reinforce the re-taking of Gird Trench. The attack failed, like many that preceded it, and altogether a thousand casualties were lost. The Butte (mound) would change hands several times throughout the war, finally being re-taken by the allies in August 1918 during the Second Battle of Bapaume.
James Hamilton’s sacrifice is commemorated in the rolls of honour and war memorials of Middlesbrough, Darlington Grammar School (now Queen Elizabeth VIth Form College), Durham University, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Heversham Boarding House school (now Dallam School, Milnthorpe), and St Peter’s Church, Heversham.