James was the son of John and Isabell Parkin of Kendal, Westmoreland, England. He came to Australia sometime after 1911. He enlisted for war service at Inverell in March 1916, giving his age as twenty four and occupation as Labourer.

After joining the 33rd Battalion, 1st Reinforcement he left Australia on the ship HMAT A74 Marathon in May 1916.  Following arrival in England in July, training continued until he was sent to France in September to join the 53rd Battalion.  By the end of the year James was suffering from Trench Feet and transferred to hospital in England. After recovering he was posted to the 63 Battalion at Windmill Hill until returning to France in June 1916 and being sent to reinforce the 53rd Battalion. Three months later he was wounded in action and treated for a gunshot wound to his shoulder and leg. He rejoined his unit in November. Early in 1918 he was transferred for duty to the Tunnelling Company for a month, then had leave in England.  He rejoined his unit in France in April.

Just twelve days before the end of the War James was killed in action and buried at Tincourt New British Cemetery, France. At Inverell his name is recorded on the town’s Honor Roll and Cenotaph. In 1919 he was one of the men for whom a memorial tree was planted in Kurrajong Parade, Inverell.