The year in which Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, “Chariots of Fire” won the Oscar for best film, Prince William was born, Italy triumphed in the FIFA World Cup, Princess Grace of Monaco was killed in a car crash, and I was starting my first proper job.
Freshly graduated, I was little more than a filing clerk and glorified messenger in the halls of the Department of Foreign Affairs. My office was in town, whilest Foreign Affairs also occupied offices in the Union Buildings. A shuttle ran daily trips to Meintjes Kop and I was the chief volunteer to carry documents across town. This was way before fax machines, let alone e-mail !! And thank goodness for that.
I absolutely loved going to the Union Buildings. Partly to get out of a stuffy office but also to enjoy the grandeur of the Union Buildings as well as the magnificent gardens.
Now for the first time in 29 years, I am driving up Government Lane.
Memories came flooding back, as the splendour of Sir Herbert Baker’s creation is sort of hidden, because you are approaching it from the side. It is only until you are parking in front of the majestic structure, that the Union Buildings tower over you.
It was a staggering building project for 1910…imagine 83 cranes dotting the site, 15 electrically operated, 3 steam driven and the remainder worked by hand…14 million bricks and 40 thousand bags of cement were used and up to 1 265 men worked furiously to finish the building in November 1913.
There are various statues and memorials scattered in the grounds of the Union Buildings. My favourite by far is the replica of the Delville Wood Memorial, also designed by Sir Herbert Baker. It commemorates that epic First World War battle, during which a brigade of 3 400 South African soldiers were ordered to clear the woods and hold that position against the enemy. They did just that. When the 5 day battle was over, only 3 officers and 140 wounded and weary men emerged alive.
Lifesize figures of Castor and Pollux clasp hands across the back of a fiery steed. This monument was unveiled in 1929 by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.
In the Eastern corner of the gardens, stands the Police Memorial, quiet testament to their service and sacrifice.
I wander through the lush gardens, down the hill to the statue of General Louis Botha. South Africa’s first Prime Minister gazes resolutely down Church street.
Walking back up the hill, my eyes are drawn to the massive clock towers, all of 55 meters high. As the noonday chimes ring out, I take one last photo, and then one more, and one more, as I can not stop looking. Still in love with the Union Buildings, 29 years on.