James was born in Sydney to George and Emily Halliday. In June 1916, at the age of twenty five, he enlisted at Inverell, stating he was a Labourer at Delungra.

He joined the 34th Battalion, 4th Reinforcement and left Australia on HMAT A30 Borda in October 1916. He arrived in England in January and spent three months at Durrington Camp before being sent to France in April 1917. Just a month later he was badly wounded near Wimereux and transferred back to England for treatment of a gunshot wound to his back and neck.

James was sent to France again in December, however he was returned to England eighteen days later. James came home to Australia and was medically discharged in April 1918 with a pension of three pounds ($6) per fortnight. He was one of several soldiers given a Welcome Home at Delungra in November 1918.

The following year he married and by 1933 was living at Milperra in Sydney where he died in 1970.

James has his name recorded on the Delungra Roll of Honor and on the new Anzac Memorial at Delungra.