Robert and Margaret Wygle were a married couple living in the Philippines with their children when they were imprisoned in the Santo Tomás Internment Camp in Manila. Robert and his son Peter, who was 11 years old at the time the family entered the camps, would later co-author Surviving a Japanese POW Camp on their experiences. The family stayed at Santo Tomás until liberation in 1945. Peter Wygle later served in the Korean War and the Army National Guard, remaining active in the community of former internees until his passing.
“The Shanty Dwellers,” 1943
This drawing was done by Robert Wygle. It depicts a family of internees walking back to their handmade “shanty” as the internees nicknamed them. As none of the internment camps were equipped to handle to mass amounts of individuals forced to live inside them, crowding became a serious issue. Eventually, the Japanese prison administration allowed the internees to build their own housing modeled after nipa huts. Nipa huts are traditional Filipino housing made from local materials including palm trees or nipa. They nicknamed their huts “shanties.” Internees at first were only allowed to spend their daylight hours inside the shanties as long as they returned to their communal sleeping areas. Eventually, they were allowed to cook and finally to move into them full-time. Internees were able to procure furniture, stoves, and storage as well as plant private gardens around their shanties. As these items, as well as the materials to build the shanties, came out of the internee’s private funds, owning a shanty became a sign of wealth and privilege inside the prison camps.
“Scenes from Santo Tomás,” 1943
This drawing was made by Robert Wygle and depicts scenes of daily living inside Santo Tomás Internment Camp. In the top left corner is a typical meal from the community kitchen or chow line. Wygle made later notes to his drawing that even this sparse meal would have been appealing compared to the following year when food became so hard to find that internees began eating weeds, kitchen garbage, and pests. In the top right are a pair of “bokias” or bakŷas, wooden sandals adopted by the internees for life inside the camps. Wygle became a repairman for this type of footwear and complained of the continuous stream of internees coming with broken straps needing to be fixed or replaced. In the center, Wygle notes that in 1943 each internee was given a daily ration of five squares of toilet paper; by 1944, toilet paper became a luxury item and internees describe using old newspapers instead. In the bottom left is a drawing of a meal ticket for the community chow line. Within a few weeks of initial imprisonment, the camp’s inhabitants had set up a community kitchen to ensure that no one inside the camp went without at least a little food each day. Meal tickets made sure no one attempted to take more than their share of food. The last drawing in the bottom right, labeled “Siesta Hour,” implies the importance internees placed on getting their afternoon rest period. Every able-bodied adult internee was expected to take a share of the work to keep the camp running, afternoon periods were typically free periods that allowed internees to rest during the hot hours of the day.
Bamboo Knitting Needles, c. 1944
These knitting needles were handmade by Robert Wygle for his wife inside Santo Tomás. Knitting was a way to pass the time inside the camp as well as make needed clothing. Handmade knitted items could also serve as gifts for special occasions.
Handknitted Sweater, c. 1944
This sweater was knitted by Margaret Wygle for her daughter using the bamboo knitting needles above.
Recipe Book, c. 1943
This small notebook contains dozens upon dozens of recipes copied by Margaret Wygle. Recipe collecting and swapping became a trend within Santo Tomás when starvation began to spread. To stave off hunger, internees imagined past meals and favorite dishes from before the war, sharing stories and "food fantasies" of what foods they missed the most. Despite the scarcity of paper, internees began writing down their favorite recipes from home, including their fellow prisoners' recipes as well, on whatever they could find.