James Duke was born at Balmain, New South Wales, in April 1893 to parents James Duke and Mary Duke (née Bell). He was the youngest of two children, with one sister.
Duke was a plumber and served a six-year apprencticeship with his father a master plumber prior to his enlistment.
Duke enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Sydney on 22 December 1915 and was attached to the 15th Reinforcements for the 1st Field Company Engineers as a sapper. On 21 March 1916, Duke embarked from Sydney on the troopship Armadale and disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt. He joined the miscellaneous reinforcements at Tel-el-kebir on 24 April 1916. On 10 May, Duke embarked from Egypt on the troopship Caledonia. He was taken on strength with the 1st Field Company Engineers (FCE) in France on 14 June 1916.
Duke was wounded in action near Albert, France, on 23 July 1916 and admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds to the hand and forehead. Duke rejoined his unit from hospital on 13 August 1916. At this time, his unit was based near La Boiselle, France, working on repairing and improving trenches. In February 1917, while his unit was stationed at Bazentin, near Pozières, Duke was detached for duty at the Hydraulic Pipe Pushing School located at Fricourt. Duke rejoined his unit on 2 March 1917. In April, the 1st FCE were based at Bapaume, France, working on maintaining, improving and extending railway lines. On 25 April 1917, Duke participated in a concert organised by the unit and sang “The veterans song”. Duke remained with his unit in France and Belgium, until given leave to England in October 1917.
Duke was detached to the 1st Division Concert Party on 24 November 1917, and remained with the concert party until 2 April 1918, when he rejoined his unit in France. Duke was allocated for return to Australia in late March 1919 and returned to England on 3 April. He embarked from England aboard the troopship Nestor on 20 May, and disembarked at Sydney on 4 July 1919. Duke was discharged on 21 August 1919.
Following his discharge, Duke returned to his pre-enlistment occupation of plumber, residing with his parents at Blackheath, New South Wales. Duke married Kathleen Isabel Martha Collier at Katoomba, New South Wales, in 1926 and the couple had a daughter Ella Mary. Duke continued in the trade of plumber, residing in Blackheath until at least 1936. Duke’s father died in 1932, and during the latter part of the 1930’s or early 1940’s, the family moved to Marrickville, New South Wales. Duke is recorded employed as a lift driver living at Concord, New South Wales, from 1968.
James Duke died at Concord, New South Wales on 2 June 1977 at the age of 84. Kathleen Duke died on 4 May 1984 at the age of 94.