At the age of twenty three, James enlisted in November 1914 at Liverpool NSW.  At the time he was working as a Labourer at Howell, near Inverell where his parents lived.

He joined the 13th Battalion, 2nd Reinforcement and sailed from Australia on HMAT A48 Seang Bee in February 1915. He served at Gallipoli where he was Killed in Action at Quinn’s Post on 29 May 1915 when a bomb exploded burying him alive.

Private McDonald has his name recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, Turkey. His name is also recorded on the Tingha Honor Roll and Cenotaph.