William Godfrey Dunham Massy was born on 24 November 1838. He was the eldest of four sons of Major Henry William Massy (1816-1895) of Grantstown and Gonmaine, co. Tipperary, Ireland by his wife Maria, daughter of Patrick Cahill. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he graduated B.A. in 1859, and was made LL.D. in 1873.
He abandoned his studies, however, to volunteer for service in the Crimean War. On 27 October 1854, he entered the army as ensign, and despite being aged just sixteen, Massy was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 19th Regiment of Foot. He served at the latter part of the siege of Sevastopol, was under fire at the battle of Tchernaya and commanded the Grenadier Company of the 19th regiment at the final assault of the Redan on 8 September 1855.
The Redan was a fortified Russian position outside Sevastopol that had already withstood several previous attacks. At the beginning of the attack, Massy was noticed standing in the midst of a hail of fire, encouraging his men forward. He then took command of his company when all the other officers had been killed or wounded and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was also wounded, being hit in both legs. As the Russians withdrew, they detonated their gunpowder stores in the Redan, and Massy and the other wounded lay out overnight as the stores exploded around them. Massy had his right leg fearfully crushed by falling stone and masonry. The survivors later testified how he crawled from one to the other, checking on their condition and trying to boost the spirits of these wounded men who had been left lying between the lines. He fell during the ensuing night into the hands of the enemy, who abandoned him. believing him to be mortally wounded. He was finally rescued, and recovered after a confinement to his camp stretcher of nearly six months, being successfully operated on by regimental Surgeon Thomas Longmore, who most certainly saved his life. On 25th February, 1856, Massy was sent home on the hospital ship Andes.When he arrived on crutches in Dublin in March 1856, the students of Dublin University presented him with a Sword of Honour and gave him a hero's welcome. He was only 18 years old. The sword is in the National Museum's collection and is an example of the 1822/45 pattern infantry officer's sword and it was made by the Wilkinson Company, London.
Massy's conduct was mentioned in despatches and he was fêted in the press, while the French awarded him the Légion d'honneur. He soon became known as 'Redan' Massy. On his return to Ireland he resumed his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he soon enjoyed celebrity status among his fellow students and around the city in general. He was referred to in ballads of the period and in 1856 was sent to Nenagh in the hope that he could help to end the mutiny of the North Tipperary Militia.
Massy was promoted to Captain on 20 February 1860. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.) by Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland, in 1873. He fought in the Afghan War between 1879 and 1880, where he was once again mentioned in despatches. He became Major-General on 23 August 1886. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath (C.B.) in 1887. He commanded the troops in Ceylon from 1888 to 1893, when, on 21 January, he was promoted Lieutenant-General. On 4 Oct. 1896 he obtained the colonelcy of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, and on 1 April 1898 was placed on the retired list. He held the office of High Sheriff of County Tipperary in 1899. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of County Tipperary. He held the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for County Tipperary. He gained the rank of Lieutenant-General in the service of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He lived at Grantstown, County Tipperary, Ireland. He died on 20 Sept. 1906 at the family residence, Grantstown Hall, Tipperary. He married in 1869 Elizabeth Jane, eldest daughter of Major-General Sir Thomas Seaton, K.C.B., of Ackworth, Suffolk, and widow of George Arnold, by whom he left issue one daughter, Gertrude Annette Seaton, who married in 1893 Colonel James George Cockburn (d. 1900).