John Emmett Woodall was born on 1 January 1904. He attended Hyde County School between 1915 and 1922. From 1922 to 1927 he attended Manchester University, graduating in 1926 with a BA in French, geography and history. In 1927 he took a Teacher's Diploma course. In the same year he was appointed to the staff of Tientsin Grammar School (TGS), where he became Assistant Master in charge of geography and sports. From 1934 until 1937 he was Assistant Headmaster, and in 1937 he took the post of Headmaster of TGS. When the Japanese occupied the School in December 1941, Woodall continued classes in various locations around Tientsin, in what he termed the 'Catacombs School'. In 1943, he and his family were interned at Lung Hwa Internment Camp. In September 1945, they were repatriated and returned to England. In 1946, Woodall went to Sudan as a Lecturer at the Institute of Education at Dueim, and he later became Head Master of Atar School. Following the country's independence and a mutiny in the South, he escaped with his family into Uganda in 1955. He worked at a teacher training college at Katsina, Northern Nigeria, 1956-1960. Following Nigerian independence, Woodall went to Uganda as Education Secretary to the Church of Buganda. He returned to Guernsey in 1962, following illness (cancer). In 1977, he attended the first re-union of former TGS pupils, in Vancouver. In the following years he attended many such gatherings in London, Australia and America. In 1981 he re-visited Tientsin with a group of former pupils. He died on 5 January 1987. He was married to Daphne Payne, a former student at the TGS. They had two sons and a daughter.
The Tientsin School was founded by the Tientsin School Association in 1905. Its object was 'to promote the education, through the medium of the English language, of those children of Tientsin and the country dependent on Tientsin for whom English is the native language'. In spring 1918, the Tientsin School Association transferred the school to the British Municipal Council, at which point it became known as the Tientsin Grammar School (TGS). In 1930, control of the school was placed in the hands of the Trustees for Foreign Education, and responsibility for administration fell to a Committee of Management, elected annually by the ratepayers.
The school offered an education to fit pupils for the large public schools in England, and for business careers in the Far East. TGS became the North China Centre for the Cambridge Local Examinations. The first Cambridge Local Examinations were held in 1924. The first Head Master of TGS was H J Turner. In 1926, Alec Hay took up the post, with S Yeates as Assistant Head Master. Yeates became Head Master in 1927, and in 1937 John Emmett Woodall took up the post.
On 8 December 1941, the Japanese occupied the British Concession of Tientsin. On the same day, Japanese soldiers entered the school building and the pupils were dismissed. TGS ceased to be a school for English speaking Tientsiners, and within a few weeks had been converted to a Japanese girls' school. Classes continued for some time under Woodall, in what he termed the 'Catacombs School', in a church hall, dining rooms and garages. However, within three months, the Japanese had ordered Woodall to cease all educational activities. Classes for school children did continue within the internment camps. The School building and grounds were given to Chiang Kai Shek in the Anglo Chinese Treaty of 1943; the Chinese Nationalists took possession after VJ Day, and four years later the Chinese Communist forces took control of Tientsin.