Ben Carlin: the story of a Guildford Grammar School alumni who travelled the world in an amphibious jeep called Half-Safe

Guildford Grammar School alumni, Ben Carlin attended the School from 1923 to 1929. On leaving school he pursued various careers, including studying engineering at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines before vanishing to a coal mine in China. There he served in the war as a member of the Royal Indian Engineers. This is Ben Carlin’s story, a man who travelled the world in an amphibious jeep called ‘Half-Safe’. Today, you’ll find his famous jeep lovingly preserved within the grounds of Guildford Grammar School.

Close to the end of his tour of duty with the Royal Indian Engineers, a battered amphibious Jeep caught the attention of Guildford Grammar graduate, Ben Carlin. After 15 minutes around, over and under this oddity, the likes of which he had never seen, he mused, “You know, with a bit of titivation you could go around the world in one of these things.”

After his demobilisation in 1946, Carlin found a surplus Jeep in the United States of America. He renovated and refitted it and named it Half-Safe, after a personal deodorant being advertised on the radio at the time.

In June 1948, he and his second wife, Elinore, set sail for New York. Nearly two years later, and after many mishaps, Half-Safe finally set out to sea from Halifax on 19 July 1950. They arrived in Africa six months later, on 23 February 1951, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

From there the route took them overland through the Spanish Sahara, up the African coast, through French Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain and on to France. By the time they arrived in Paris they were so broke they exhibited Half-Safe in department stores to raise funds. On leaving Paris they did some sightseeing in Europe before crossing the English Channel, arriving in London almost a year from the date of departure.

After spending three years in England refitting Half-Safe, Ben and Elinore were ready for the second part of their journey. From Paris they travelled overland to Calcutta via Istanbul and on to Delhi. By the time they reached India, Elinore had abandoned ship and Ben was forced to find another mate. From Delhi, Half-Safe travelled by water to Rangoon, overland to Saigon via Bangkok, and by sea and land to Alaska via the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, the Aleutians and finally Montreal.

Ben Carlin completed his journey on 12 May 1958 and had travelled 17,780 km by sea and 62,744 km by land in eight years.

Ben Carlin died on 7 March 1981 at Cottesloe, Western Australia, aged 69. Guildford Grammar School acted as trustee for his estate. The Charlotte Carlin Scholarship was established in honour of Ben’s mother who died when he was four.

A half share of Half-Safe was also donated to the School. The other half share was purchased from his friend, George Calimer, who lived in Baltimore, United States of America.

In 1984, the Jeep was transported to Guildford Grammar School where it remains to this day in a purpose-built shelter.

Half-Safe – Across the Atlantic by Jeep by Ben Carlin is out of print. The Other Half of Half-Safe by Ben Carlin (which includes an abridged version of Half-Safe – Across the Atlantic by Jeep) is available from the School. It retails for $40 plus postage.

For further information about Ben Carlin and other Guildford Grammar School alumni please contact Rosemary Waller, School Archivist, on or +61 8 9377 9212. To learn more about other colourful Guildford Grammar characters, please sign up to our newsletter.