Joseph was the fourth and youngest son of commission agent Thomas Fairbairns and his wife, Elizabeth.
The family are recorded at "Montpellier" Mount Ephraim Road and "Mayfield" Coventry Park.
At the outbreak of war Joseph signed up as a rifleman in the Artists Rifles, going on to be granted a commission in the Royal Field Artillery in April 1917. He spent some time after this in training at Woolwich, before returning to the front in August, where he was attached to the 8th Divisional Ammunition Column, involved in the logistics of ammunition supply around Ypres. Just over a week later, on August 20th, he was in charge of an ammunition convoy near the front line when it was hit by a German shell, killing him and many of his men