Singapore relic finds its way home

By Evelyn Long

April 15, 2014

It began its journey 75 years ago. It was November, 1939 when, as part of a Christmas gift exchange between international Rotary chapters, a Malayan pewter ash tray was sent from the Rotary Club of Singapore to Harry and Marjorie Curl in Cardington.

Harry was a member of the Cardington Rotary Club which had been chartered April 8, 1938 and sponsored by the Marion Rotary Club. Marjorie was a member of the newly organized Rotary Anns.

The ash tray was sent by S R Peek, chairman of the International Service Committee of The Rotary Club of Singapore.

The Curls kept the ash tray, which was representative of the Malaysian Industrial Production. Following Harry’s death in 1950, his widow never parted with it and following her death in April, 1981, her oldest son, Kent, retrieved it and for the ensuing 32 years it went with him and his family as he traveled the world as Principal Engineer with GE Nuclear Energy for 14 years. The little ash tray traveled with him to Washington, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Alabama and Pennsylvania. Later, following his retirement from GE, he and his wife lived in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area for ten years, retiring to Coronado, California. The ash tray remained in his custody.

“I tried (not too vigorously) to find a good home for it,” said Curl, who retired in 1974 as Commander, United States Navy, with 21 years of service. Then it occurred to him that Rotarians may attach some historical value to it.

“So, I approached a fellow choir member (in Coronado) who I knew to be a Rotarian and passed it along to him for the local Coronado Club.”

That man, Stephen Duermeyer, then sent the ash tray and the accompanying documents to Bob Mathews, secretary of the Cardington club, who, in turn presented it to the local club’s president, Scott Johnson.

So completes a 75 year journey.

In the November, 1939 letter from Mr. Peek, that accompanied the sending of the pewter ash tray, he noted there “are very few things made here which in any way represent one of the typical industries of Malaya and at the same time suitable for presentation to a lady.”

“I could scarcely send you a strip of Ribbed Smoked Sheet Rubber or a bar of Tin or a pineapple, nor yet, a piece of jungle Jelutong, largely used in the making of your American chewing gum - and I doubt very much whether you would appreciate a native ‘sarong’ for it is really an ugly garment, not at all like Dorothy Lamour’s film creations which go by the same name!”

“So by the process of elimination, we get down to Malayan pewter and of the smaller articles made, the ash tray is as pretty as any and certainly as useful. Even if you tell me you don’t smoke, probably your husband does, unless he is like myself, the non-smoking son of a cigar importer - and your guests will.”

In his letter he notes that tropical Singapore is only a few miles north of the Equator and reiterates the purpose of Rotary is to work for peace on earth in a spirit of good will to all men.

In a second letter to Mrs. Curl dated June 10, 1940, Mr. Peek revealed that he was a 12-year member of Rotary and he and his wife were English, coming from London and had two sons, 19 and 20. They arrived in Singapore in 1937 expecting it to be a two months business trip but it turned into a permanent transfer to Malaya as a “result of the war in China.”

Mr. Peek went on to describe positives of Singapore with its diversification Rotarian membership and population.

He concluded by noting that the “most earnest wish of the man-in-the-street in all of his travels around the world and in Singapore was the right to live happily and peacefully. No where have I found the individual citizen anxious to make war on his neighbors but everywhere the spirit of live and let live in peace.”

Sadly, just two years later, the Japanese invaded this country, marching down the Malay peninsula from Thailand and took Singapore, occupying the city from 1942 to 1945.

The little ash tray now rests comfortably where it was originally sent and the Cardington Rotary Club, through spokesman Bob Mathews, expresses appreciation to Kent Curl and the Coronado Rotary Club for their efforts in returning it.