James Shanks Wishart was born on 30 October 1876 in Woolfords, a small hamlet in the Parish of Carnwath, Lanarkshire. He was the third child of Robert Wishart, a coal miner from Leven, and his wife, Jane Shanks. In 1881, when James was four, the family were living in Millheugh, Larkhall and then nearby above a sweet shop at 38 Raploch Street ten years later. After he left school James followed his father down the mines, however by 1901, he had started a new career as a bricklayer and at the time of the 1911 census, was living with his family in Denbeath, Fife. The same year, on 1 June, James married Elizabeth Brown by declaration in Glasgow.
James enlisted at Methil on 29 March 1915 and joined the 16th Corps Royal Engineers with whom he was assigned the role of skilled bricklayer. He embarked for France with the 137th Corps Royal Engineers on 24 July, and at some point after arrival was posted to Salonika in the Balkans.
During the summer of 1916, James caught malaria and sent to 21 Stationary Hospital at Karaissi before being transported to the hospital ship Carisbrooke Castle on 11 August. From there he sailed to Malta and then Mudros, where he boarded the HMHS Britannic (sister ship to the Titanic) for Southampton.
James arrived back on British soil on 11 October and was admitted to military hospitals in Aberdeen and then Edinburgh, after which, on 2 February 1917, he was discharged to Royal Engineers No.2 Depot Company in Newark. The day after arrival James went absent without leave for almost five days and forfeited six days pay as punishment. On 7 June he overstayed his pass for over nine hours and was deprived of a further two days pay. Between 7 and 8 August James went absent without leave again and was put under close arrest before being tried and sentenced to 56 days imprisonment at the Derby Detention Barracks. The details of the case were as follows:
Charges brought forward: When on Active Service deserting his Majesty’s Service in that he at Newark on 7th July 1917 absented himself from No.2 D/C of RE Newark until apprehended by the Civil Police at Denbeath on August 8th, 1917.
Losing by neglect his clothing and regimental necessaries in that he at Newark on 12.8.17 was deficient of 1 pair of drawers (woollen.)
James was released from detention on 10 October and sent back to France on 15 January 1918, where he joined the 237th Field Company Royal Engineers.
On 21 March 1918, the Germans began a series of attacks along the Western Front that would be collectively known as the Spring Offensive. Several days after the campaign began, the 237th was embroiled in the First Battle of Bapaume, during which the Allies were forced to retreat. The German advance on the town started on 24 March, and James was reported as missing in action the next day.
Having received the news about her husband, Elizabeth wrote to the War Office on 8 May asking if any further information had been forthcoming in anticipation that perhaps he had been found in a hospital. A week later she received a reply stating that the situation had not changed and that she would be informed should there be any further news. The uncertainty lasted until the following year when on 23 January 1919 James was recorded as officially considered as having died on 25 March. His body was discovered after the war and reburied in the Adanac Military Cemetery in Miraumont, Somme (Grave no II.I 5.)