PETALING JAYA: She was “dumbfounded” when a colonel at the Sungai Besi army camp “dropped a bombshell” on her, telling her that she would be sent on intelligence service in Somalia within a week.
That’s Mejar Toh Lian Sim @ Siti Linziana, who is little known among Malaysians, nor mentioned in history books but who played a role in the armed forces’ mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1994.
Her assignment came just four months after the first Battle of Mogadishu, a US mission to capture high-ranking officials of a Somali warlord, which came to be known in the film Black Hawk Down.
Malaysian peacekeepers were sent there in 1993 in the rescue of US elite forces, which saw Kpl Mat Aznan Awang killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Condor armoured personnel carrier. Nine other Malaysian soldiers were also wounded.
Mejar Toh was serving her fourth year as a staff officer at the Army Field Command headquarters in Sungai Besi when the post came.
“I was recommended to serve as an ‘intelligence officer’ to observe and report the ground situation.
“It was a rare mission, so I was truly delighted to be part of it,” said Mejar Toh, as quoted in Memoirs of the Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans, a book just released by the Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association (Macva).
Mejar Toh, 63, said she was in Somalia for hardly a week but “being able to experience the atmosphere of war was truly invaluable”.
“During my stay in Mogadishu, sounds of explosions and shooting were heard throughout the day and night and it was particularly obvious at night.
“Occasionally, I woke up at night thinking I was at home, listening to firecrackers being let off in celebration of the Chinese New Year,” said Mejar Toh, who became a Muslim after marrying an army man.
Explaining the book, editor-in-chief Lt-Kol Dr Liew Ngoh Chin said Macva decided to have a recollection of stories from personnel of different races when he realised that Malaysians did not have a culture of recording history.
“We started with the Emergency, the second Emergency, also known as the counter-insurgency warfare, then to peacekeeping missions, bravery and outstanding achievements,” he said in an interview.
Sharing his experience, Lt-Kol Dr Liew said he witnessed the second Emergency while serving as a medical officer in the battalion.“I saw how servicemen of different races got into action or were injured by gunfire or booby traps.
“They all contributed gallantly to the defence of the nation,” he said.
He said that he wanted to put these stories of “unsung heroes” into historical context.
“I am glad that some efforts to record these stories are finally taking shape,” said Lt-Kol Dr Liew.
The book will be on sale to the public within one or two months.
Its deputy editor-in-chief Lt-Kol Chua Eng Lye said it took over two years to write the book, the biggest challenge being to gather information and carry out interviews.
Sharing his experiences, Mejar Peter Yeow Chow Cheong said he took part in various flying missions during the height of the insurgency.
“Back in the 1970s and 1980s, helicopters were limited.
“We had two squadrons in East Malaysia and two in the west. Every operation used the same copter.
“I was also in the army before I joined the air force, so I know air support is important for casualties, medical supplies as well as insertion of troops,” he said.
Mejar Yeow said Macva was now assisting the Defence Ministry to recruit more non-Malay youths.