James Sanderson was born on 15 January 1891 at Liverton Mines in Yorkshire, the fifth son of seven children of William Sanderson, a winding engineman at the ironstone mine there, and of his wife Elizabeth.
Following the example of his brother George Gordon Sanderson, a pupil teacher in 1901, James Sanderson attended St Bede College 1909-1911 in order to obtain a professional teaching qualification. He was then appointed as a certificated assistant, and taught at Barrington School in Houghton-le-Spring and at Hetton-le-Hole Church of England County Council School.
Shortly after war broke out, on 21 September 1914, Sanderson enlisted at Durham with the 18th (Service) ‘Durham Pals’ Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry; he was posted as a private three days later. He went with the battalion to Egypt, garrisoning the Suez Canal at El Qantara from 22 December 1915 until the unit was posted to France, arriving there on 11 March 1916. He was clearly a proficient soldier as his service papers record a sequence of promotions to Lance Corporal (unpaid) in July 1916, corporal in August 1916, having survived the Battle of the Somme, lance sergeant and then quickly sergeant in March 1917. An account of a German raid he contributed to The Bede magazine in December 1916 testifies to the constant pressure he and his comrades were under on a daily basis when in the front line in months between the larger well-known battles. The narrative is a lively read, with much dialogue: the unsuccessful attack resulted in one D.C.M. – to Sergeant Mark Pinkney, another Bede man who survived the war - and two Military Medals being awarded.
Sanderson was killed during the closing days of the Battle of Arras on 3 May 1917. As reported in The Bede (August 1917) he was killed instantly by a shell as the battalion was going along a shallow trench into the line probably at Oppy Wood. In the darkness several of his friends had to pass over him and others killed with him, and only learned later who they were. Among his effects later returned to the family was a book poems.
A small wooden cross was later erected to mark his grave, but this must have been lost for his name is recorded in France now only on the Arras Memorial. His sacrifice is also commemorated on several war memorials in England: a gravestone and war memorial at St Michael’s church, Liverton; the Durham County Council war memorial; the Bede College 1914-18 Plaque, Cross and Roll of Honour; and in the National Union of Teachers War Record 1914-1919 (1920). His last known address, that stated at probate, was 39 Station Road, Hetton-le-Hole.