James was married to a Miss Jean Anstruther, who previously lived at 21 Birchdale Road, Waterloo, Liverpool. He was born in Anstruther-Easter, Fife, Scotland. His father was Alexander Hay, an Anstruther merchant, and his mother was Sarah Julia Webster. According to the National Probate Calendar, his last known address was 61 Endborne-road Orrell Park, Liverpool.
James attained the rank of Captain in the Seaforth Highlanders, 9th Battalion. According to the Fife Library Newspaper Index Cards, James joined the Army at age 16, and served for 21 years with the Seaforth Highlanders in India, Egypt, and South Africa. He retired and re-enlisted on the outbreak of WW1. In the East Fife Record, 17 December 1914, there is a report of his promotion to Adjutant and Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.
James was killed in action in Ypres, Belgium on 30th November 1915 aged 41.