Mr James Walls was born at 124 Great George’s Street in Belfast, Ireland on 24 May 1879. Coming from a Roman Catholic family, he was the son of labourer and dock stevedore Patrick Walls and the former Catherine McKee.
Giving his address as Pilot Street in Belfast, Walls was married in St Mary’s Church in that city on 20 August 1899 to Martha O’Hagan (b. 28 February 1881), a native of Newtownards, Co Down.
James and Martha went on to become the parents of eleven children: Catherine Teresa (b. February 1901), Sarah (b. October 1902), Patrick (b. July 1904), Ellen (b. July 1906), Martha (b. May 1908), James (b. November 1909), Elizabeth (b. December 1910), Patrick (b. January 1912), James (b. June 1913), Mary (b. March 1915), Henry (b. July 1916), John (b. September 1919).
Their daughter Sarah lived only five days, having been born severely disabled. The first-born Patrick lived just two days and first-born son James lived just one day, both also having been born severely disabled. Second-born Patrick lived for 19 days and died from whooping cough in February 1912. Son Henry died in November 1918 aged two years during the influenza pandemic.
The 1901 census shows James and his family at 49 Pilot Street, the home of his parents, and he was described as a stevedore.
By 1911 James and his family were residents of 16 Earl Street in north Belfast and he was described as a labourer.
Walls’ ship prior to Titanic had been the Olympic. He joined Titanic at Belfast for the delivery trip to Southampton where he then disembarked.
In the following years James continued working at sea with the merchant fleet. In April 1918, whilst a resident of 18 Traverfield Street, Belfast, he volunteered for service as a crane driver. He was described as standing at 5’ 9” and with blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. He also sported a tattoo of a crucifix on his left arm. Sapper James Walls was later discharged in August 1918 due to being physically unfit; he had a deformed left foot, sustained in an injury sometime around 1915 back in Belfast when he lost four toes. He also had varicose veins in both legs. He returned home and from there returned to working at sea.
James Walls remained in Belfast for the rest of his life and continued to work at the docks. He died from coal gas poisoning on 5 February 1943.