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Ian Warner from the Mildenhall Military Insignia Collectors Club, fans out some of the patches he brought to display and trade at a recent swap meet at the Mildenhall Jubilee center.
Ian Warner from the Mildenhall Military Insignia Collectors Club, fans out some of the patches he brought to display and trade at a recent swap meet at the Mildenhall Jubilee center. (Ben Murray / S&S)

It almost sounds like a shady operation. A small group of men with an avid interest in a common product, meet to trade, buy and sell their wares in handshake deals and delicate agreements. But in reality, it isn’t illicit — not when the product is unit patches from Air Force squadrons.

For 15 years, Ian Warner has been part of the Mildenhall Military Insignia Collectors Club, a small group that meets several times a year to swap patches and insignia, often from extensive collections. Now the coordinator of the group, Warner said club members focus on U.S. Air Force patches, though he doesn’t see many U.S. airmen at the meets — a shame because collectors are always looking for new pieces.

A keen collector, Warner is hoping for more U.S. involvement at the group’s June 22 meeting.

What do you have more of, patches or miles on your car?

Miles on the car, just about, I think.

So how many do you have?

I’ve accrued about 3,500. I did have 4,500 at one point.

What makes a patch particularly valuable?

It can be simple things … limited quantity, the nature of the patch — the design does make it more desirable, the coloration of it. Or it could be a particular unit that is more sought after and more collectible. A Lakenheath squadron or a fighter squadron, very highly sought after. Age doesn’t particularly make a patch — if it’s 50 years old doesn’t necessarily make it rare.

Is there sort of a holy grail of patches out there?

Probably some of the early fighter/interceptor units from RAF Manston or RAF Bentwaters, from the 1950s. There’s one in particular, the 81st Fighter/Interceptor Wing. I only know of one in existence.

Do you own it?

No.

Do you have a favorite of your own?

Yeah, the 512th Fighter/Interceptor Wing. Beautiful design.

Do you have a nickname either among people here or among your family, like “Patchmaster?”

Not as far as I’m aware.

Are people driving hard bargains here?

Oh yeah, there’s some pretty big business that goes down here. Some of these patches are worth four, five hundred dollars apiece.

If someone wants to start building a collection, what should they do?

Come to a meet like this.

Is this a good setting for me to meet young, attractive women?

Ah, unfortunately not. It’s a bit of a men’s world.

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