HAVE you been poppy-trained yet? It’s never too late to start. There’s bound to be a course somewhere offering upskilling modules on how best to commemorate the fallen in both world wars.

Any day now, I expect to see Sir Keir Starmer, the shallowest and most venal British politician of the modern era, appear with a giant poppy covering the entire back wall of his office. He has already decided that one Union Jack isn’t good enough for him and that there must be two. Surely a simple red poppy on his jacket might soon prove to be similarly insufficient?

You may have thought that choosing to wear a poppy on the days before Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday required little formal instruction. That you simply made a modest donation to the Poppy Fund, affixed the little red plastic keepsake to your coat or jacket and offered a silent prayer.

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Very few Scottish families don’t have an uncle who died in one of the two great wars and so we might once have paused for a moment and paid quiet tribute to their sacrifice. Perhaps you simply want to pray for peace.

Until recently, the simplicity of remembering the dead matched the modesty of the poppy. If you were a churchgoer, your minister or priest would make mention of those two great and terrible conflicts, perhaps even devote the lesson to the theme of peace and about being vigilant for the corrosive creep of fascism in all its stealthy guises.

On Armistice Day, your place of work might fall silent for a minute, maybe two. At home, you might join the rest of Britain and pause for a few moments as the clock struck 11am. In Britain’s schools the week before Armistice Day, a child would be plucked from their lesson and handed the honour of visiting all classrooms with poppies for sale. Most children would have been reminded of this by their parents who might have pressed some coins into their hands.

This small transaction might have been accompanied by a few words about why it mattered and a warning not to spend it on sweets. “I’ll want to see a poppy on your blazer at the end of the day,” we’d be told.

The National: Queen Elizabeth II laying a wreath at the Cenotaph during the National Commemoration of the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and ANZAC Day in Whitehall, London. (Photograph by Sergeant Rupert Frere RLC/PA Wire).

On Remembrance Sunday, you might walk down to the local war memorial to watch the Boys’ Brigade and the Girl Guides and the Cubs and Scouts forming a junior guard of honour as some local dignitaries placed wreaths at the same time as the Queen was placing hers at the Cenotaph. It was a time for silence and reflection.

There was dignity and respect and nobility in those few days prior to November 11 and Remembrance Sunday. And this was as it should be.

In recent years, though, something has changed in the nation’s temper about this most stately and solemn time. Dignity has retreated in the face of braying pretence. Respect has been replaced by dishonour. Nobility and contemplation have been degraded by squawking narcissism and feral zealotry.

There is no more silence, only megaphone braggadocio.

Once, this time of the year was all about the young soldiers who died martyrs' deaths, defending something they might not have fully understood but sensing still that it was something worth dying for.

Now it’s all about “me”. Now it’s all about distorting the poppy by using it to boast and make shrill proclamations about loyalty and patriotism and “Britishness”.

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Now, there are self-appointed gangs of vigilantes with fiery crosses infesting social media for the sole purpose of targeting those wretched people who have chosen – by simple oversight or design – not to wear a poppy. Perhaps you thought that the first week in November was the appropriate time to wear a poppy. You’d be wrong. If you’re caught on television or at a public event without a poppy in October, you now risk being called out and shunned.

The poppy was once a modest and humble symbol of both hope and loss. Now it has become something corrupted, something weaponised for the purpose of chivvying out non-conformists, traitors and dissidents.

And this has been the greatest perversion of them all. This little flower once symbolised the triumph of decency and selflessness over slavery and tyranny. Now it’s brandished as a means of enforcement, of harassment, of subjugation. And in the process, it has grown bigger and become louder.

The National: The Poppy Shop opens in Taunton on Saturday, October 15. Picture: Archive

For those who desire to flaunt their loyalty and sense of Britishness, a simple paper flower, barely the size of a baby’s fist, is no longer sufficient. How can it be? Ordinary people wear ordinary poppies. But we are exceptional, and so the poppies we wear must be exceptionally large. There must be mosaics lining entire walls in public spaces. The poppy must now be made to encompass the entire grandstand of football stadiums.

The minute’s silence, once voluntary and assumed, is now rigid and mandatory. It is now imposed, and you had better be on your very best behaviour for it, lest you be vilified and humiliated for not following orders.

It is an inversion of what most of us thought the poppy once stood for. It’s the grossest insult and betrayal of those young men who fought totalitarianism and the squashing of the human spirit.

Their sacrifice is now used ruthlessly by political and cultural actors to bring wrong ’uns to heel. It’s a new totalitarianism, and it’s sickening to see it growing steadily in this Britain in this century.

Since it was decided to widen Remembrance Day to include the fallen of all Britain’s overseas struggles, it was inevitable that some of those whose family and friends had been victims of illegal British overseas adventures might choose not to wear a poppy. This is especially true of some Irish people who remember the brutality and illegal actions of the British military in the north of Ireland. These people must now tread very carefully this week.

The beginning of November was one of those few times when this nation was truly united – and not in the contrived manner of royal anniversaries or sporting extravaganzas.

Conservative and liberal; left and right; young and old; Jews, Christians, Muslims and non-believers could all stand beside each other and rebuke the horrors of war and the corruption and inhumanity that lie at the root of them all.

There was something about the poppy and what it epitomised that echoed across the decades and meant something to every political and religious credo and all of our worldly philosophies. Now, it is being used to sow division and to cause fear and loathing.