Few North Carolina men, and no Tar Heel women, had a more distinguished service record in World War II than Colonel Westray Battle Boyce. Born in Rocky Mount, Westray (the surname of an ancestor) Battle attended the Woman’s College but did not graduate. She worked in insurance until 1934 when she took the first of several positions in Washington with New Deal agencies. In August 1942 she entered training for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which became a part of the Army in September 1943 when the name was changed to the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).
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In 1943-44 Major Boyce served on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff with command over WACs in North Africa. On promotion to lieutenant colonel on February 8, 1944, she became the first woman to receive the Legion of Merit. On July 12, 1945, she succeeded Col. Oveta Culp Hobby as the second director of the WAC. Gen. Stephen Henry, who made the appointment with the counsel of Gen. George C. Marshall, noted that she was “more the feminine type than any other candidate.” The WAC, where 150,000 women served during the war, drew scrutiny from the public and the press, as did Boyce. Once the war ended factions within the military split over the WAC’s future but General Eisenhower and Colonel Boyce, who oversaw demobilization, advocated a continued female Army presence. On June 12, 1948 the remaining women became a part of the regular Army or Reserves. Colonel Boyce retired in March 1947 due to health reasons.
Colonel Boyce, as she was known during the war years, was married three times: in 1924 to James Stacy Boyce of Gastonia (they were divorced in 1941); in 1948 to William Leslie of New York (he died in 1962); and in 1964 to Willie Jones Long of Garysburg. A petite woman with gray hair, Colonel Boyce had the nickname “Webbie” (derived from her initials). She took pride in her Tar Heel ancestry, keeping portraits and photographs of Battle relatives in her office. She is buried in a family plot at Cool Spring Plantation just outside Rocky Mount.
Mattie E. Treadwell, The Women’s Army Corps (U.S. Army in WWII Special Studies, 1954)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 94-94--sketch by Westray B. Nicholas
William S. Powell, comp., North Carolina Lives (1962), 754
Tom Belton, “Westray Battle Boyce: The Story of a WAC,” Tar Heel Junior Historian (Spring 1986): 17-21
Herbert B. Battle, comp., The Battle Book: A Genealogy of the Battle Family in America (1930)
Military Collection and Iconographic Collection, North Carolina State Archives
Westray Battle Boyce, seated with her pilot, Flight Officer Don Merrifield, during a visit to Luzon in the Phillipines in October 1945. US Army photograph.