John Lennon returns his MBE to the Queen

John Lennon returned his MBE to the Queen on this day, as an act of protest against the Vietnam war.

Lennon’s chauffeur Les Anthony returned the insignia of the award to Buckinham Palace in the morning, also delivering handwritten letters to the Queen, prime minister Harold Wilson, and the secretary of the Central Chancery, explaining his actions.

The letters were written on notepaper headed Bag Productions, the company Lennon had recently set up with Yoko Ono.

Your Majesty,

I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts.

With love. John Lennon of Bag

The action was predictably seized on by the media. Lennon gave an interview to David Bellan of BBC Radio Four in which he explained that he had been “mulling it over” for the past two years, and that the My Lai massacre carried out by the US Army in March 1968 had contributed to his decision.

He also said he had not consulted the other Beatles before returning his MBE, and that he had only accepted it after being persuaded by Brian Epstein. Lennon also held a press conference in the afternoon at Apple, and filmed an interview for Reuters.

The Beatles had each been awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s 1965 birthday honours. The news was announced on 11 June that year, and the group received the awards at the palace on 26 October.

Lennon’s MBE insignia was rediscovered in a royal vault in January 2009, 40 years after it was returned. It was found at the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St James’s Palace, where it had been kept from its day of return. It was still in its original presentation case alongside Lennon’s letter to the Queen.

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