Joseph was born on 19 June 1876 at Perkinsville, Pelton, to John, a miner, and Susannah Wake. He had an older brother William Henry.
He trained as a teacher at Armstrong College and in 1904 started work at Edmondsley Council School, Durham. He met a student teacher Minnie Sykes whilst working there and they married in 1910. In 1909, he became Head Teacher at Bowburn Council Junior School, Durham. He was also a Local Preacher, Choirmaster and Class Leader at Bowburn Wesleyan Church.
On 27th November 1915, Joseph attested under the Derby Scheme, making himself available for service. He enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery on 17th July 1916. After training he was sent to France on 3rd February 1917 and posted to the 252nd Siege Battery, at the rank of Bombardier. The Siege Batteries operated heavy howitzers mounted in fixed emplacements, firing large calibre shells, often at the enemy artillery.
On 4th August 1917, Joseph was badly wounded when he was struck in the back by a piece of a German shell which had burst behind his gun, fracturing his spine. He survived for 10 days before dying of his wounds on 14 August at St. Omer Base Hospital aged 41. Among the personal effects which were sent back to Minnie were his pipe, false teeth, wedding ring, a Bellows English-French dictionary, a second English-French dictionary, a Bible, and two china ornaments (one broken).