John was the eldest child of Robert James and Annie. Robert worked in a family business as a broker and furniture remover and Annie assisted with the business. His siblings were Emily Annie, born in 1901 and James Joseph, born in 1903.
On the 1901 census the family were living at 68 Chelsea Road, Bootle. Ten years later they appear on the 1911 census residing in 155 Linacre Road, Litherland.
At some point during the war the horses used in the family business were requisitioned by the military. After the war horses were returned to the family. By this time John was home and he used these horses to start his own haulage firm.
In 1920 John married Elsie Aspinal and they lived at 445 Stanley Road, later moving to 55a Gloucester Road, Bootle to raise their family.