James Wishart was born on 18 October 1886 in Cairnsmill near St. Andrews, Fife. He was the son of David Wishart, a farm servant from Carnbee, and his wife, Mary Berry. In 1891 James and family were living at Rhynd Cottar House in Leuchars and ten years later at Morton Of Pitmilly Cottages in Kingsbarns, when James had begun work an agricultural labourer. By 1911 James had moved in with his elder brother Robert at Whyte Rose Terrace in Methil and was employed as a bricklayer, however by 1914 he had joined him in the local coal mine.
James enlisted at Kinghorn shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914 and was assigned to the 7th (Fife) Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders.) Following mobilisation, the battalion was based in Queensferry and involved with training and coastal defence duties around Kinghorn and Burntisland. By November the Highlanders had been assigned to Tay defences and in mid-April of the following year had joined the 2nd Highland Brigade in the Highland Division at Bedford in preparation for overseas deployment.
James landed at Boulogne on 2 May 1915 and shortly after arrival the brigade was redesignated 153rd (2nd Highland) Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division. The 7th subsequently saw action at The Battle of Festubert and The Second Action of Givenchy before moving to the Somme in 1916. James was likely involved in the attacks on High Wood and The Battle of the Ancre at which the battalion captured Beaumont Hamel, and took more than 2000 prisoners.
In October 1916 James was awarded the Military Medal for devotion to duty and conspicuous gallantry in the field. An obituary published in the Kirkcaldy Times recalled that this was for carrying ammunition while under heavy enemy fire. Around this time James was wounded but quickly rejoined the line. While at the Somme he had been promoted to corporal, and in early 1917 lance sergeant.
On 31 March 1917, while billeted in a French house, a shell landed on the property and fatally wounded James.
He was buried in the Maroueil Brotosh Cemetery, Pas de Calais (no IV.A.7).