Born on 6th November 1899 at Stepney, East London, son of John (Boot Repairer) and Isabel Downes. 1901: With his family at 26 Shandy Street, Stepney. In 1902 he was Baptised at St Faith’s Church Stepney, when the family were living at 22 Loman Buildings. 1911: A Scholar with his family at 110A Whitehorse Lane, Stepney.
When he enlisted at Stratford, the Army noted he was residing in South Woodford. Initially he served as Private 325004 in 6 London Regiment, but later transferred to 1 Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment.
On 19th September 1918 the Battalion moved into front line trenches west of Villers Guislain and east of Epely on the Somme, south south west of Cambrai. During 20-09 they were told to prepare to mount an attack next day, and at dawn on 21st September they attacked the German Alpine Corps in the outer defences of the Hindenburg Line in the Battle of the St Quentin Canal. The attack was spirited but the Alpine Corps had a reputation as tough fighters, and the defences were formidable. Soon the combination of machine guns and accurate sniper fire was cutting swathes through the ranks. It was reported that the location “Gloucester Road” was choked with the dead of both sides.
James Downes was among those found missing after the attack and he was not subsequently recovered.
Research by Adrian Lee, Local Historian