John Bellany – bringing history to life at the Scottish Parliament


The story of the women who would not ‘go home and sit still’ is being brought to life at the Scottish Parliament in a new free exhibition opening tomorrow (20 January).

John Bellany and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals will feature work never before seen in public by the Scottish artist John Bellany in an exhibition which explores the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War. 

Featuring photographs, video and other objects from the First World War, the exhibition includes a new work by the Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead, in which she celebrates the life of Elsie Inglis, who set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the face of huge opposition. 

The Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP said: 

“We can only imagine the difficulties that the brave women who volunteered to work in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals must have faced on a daily basis. These women were at the Front during some of the most bloody and brutal campaigns of the First World War. They repeatedly put themselves in danger to help others and it is only right that we commemorate their contribution at the Scottish Parliament.

“The work of John Bellany vividly brings this harrowing period in our history to life. Bellany’s artwork give us a glimpse of the conditions those working in the Scottish Women’s Hospitals faced as well as looking at the many hundreds and thousands of people they helped save. 

“These women, who would not go home and sit still as they had been told, were led by Elsie Inglis who fought to create the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Her story is beautifully portrayed in the poem The Ballad of Elsie Inglis which Liz Lochhead has written especially for the exhibition.” 

Helen Bellany, the wife of the late John Bellany said: 

“John engrossed himself in the work of Elsie Inglis and the extraordinary women of her hospitals, he was overcome with admiration. What he saw was sheer courage, commitment, exhaustion in the relentless effort to give that vital comfort and hope and compassion to the desperately ill and dying. 

“He was moved to produce a body of work in celebration of those remarkable women and to express the admiration and thanksgiving he himself owed to the nursing profession and also to express what he knew a whole generation of doomed young men would have felt for the care and comfort they had been given by those nurses at the lowest point of their lives. Even then they too had been given hope and they had been given the understanding that they mattered.”   

Accompanied by a programme of events, film screenings and lectures, the free exhibition will take place in the Scottish Parliament’s Main Hall and will run from Wednesday 20 January – Saturday 16 April 2016 (excluding 15-20 February).  


The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were set up with two very specific aims: to help the war effort by providing medical assistance and to promote the cause of women’s rights and through their involvement in the war effort, help win those rights.

Dr Elsie Inglis, who was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, was famously told to ‘go home and sit still’ by the War Office when she initially offered a hospital to the British Army. Hospitals were instead offered to Britain’s allies who readily accepted them. 

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were partly funded by the women’s suffragette movement as well as by donations from across the UK and beyond. The hospital units across Europe were staffed almost entirely by female surgeons, doctors, nurses and support staff.  

More information about the exhibition and the programme of events can be found via: 

Copies of some of the artwork featured in the exhibition is available on request.

Contact information

Media information 

Public information

  • Telephone enquiry line: 0800 092 7500 or 0131 348 5395 (Gàidhlig)
  • [email protected]
  • Text 07786 209 888
  • Ask a question online through live chat
  • We also welcome calls using the Text Relay service or in British Sign Language through contactSCOTLAND-BSL

Keep up to date with us on:

keep up to date with what's happening in Parliament on Facebook Follow the Scottish Parliament on Twitter @ScotParl keep up to date with what's 
happening in Parliament on YouTube

This website is using cookies.
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website.