Thank you for your closing comment, but it wasn’t hard and I enjoy helping others to increase their knowledge about their ancestors, especially those who served and died.
The “large medal” you mention sounds like the bronze Memorial Plaque that was sent to the next of Kin of those who died in WWI, there was also a Memorial Scroll that accompanied it, the wording read:
“He whom this scroll commemorates
was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them
endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty
and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.”
For an image of the plaque and scroll together see http://anzac.homestead.com/plaque.html
or search for - wwi memorial plaque
Desertion only relates when on the battlefield; otherwise it is being absent without leave.
Your story about James was more common than people realise, many men went absent without leave, particularly after leave home to the UK. Some were formally charged and Court Marshalled, a few were sentenced to death and although most sentences were commuted some were shot. There were some 306 British soldiers who were “shot at dawn” for a variety of crimes relating to cowardice and desertion, but they had no defence representation as they would today and their trials were a disgrace. I have a copy of the book, “Shot at Dawn” and it clearly shows there were some serious miscarriages of justice; all 306 received posthumous full pardons in August 2006.
for some background and numbers Court Marshalled.
Most men who went absent were released into the care of their Commanding Officer and rejoined the fighting. They didn’t get away free though, they were often “volunteered” for the most dangerous jobs or raids on enemy trenches; those that died certainly died brave men.
You must understand, that even going absent was looked down on by the general public and if news got out a family could receive some very unwelcome attention, so your aunt’s attitude is somewhat understandable. Try and talk to her and mention the pardons and what I’ve said about such men and what it said on the scroll, but take care as I know some aspects of family history have left deep scars that the elderly find difficult to talk about. Make sure she knows you don’t want to take them away (take a camera and take pictures of them). If she has something with his details on then it would open the door for more research. It would very sad if she passed away without passing on what she knows about James, after all he was victim who would have likely received counselling today.
If I can be of any more help please post again.