In the summer of 1950, Ben Carlin and his wife Elinore left Halifax, Nova
Scotia in a World War II amphibious jeep, nicknamed Half-Safe,
bound, ultimately, for Birmingham, England. Carlin’s book Half-Safe:
Across the Atlantic by Jeep is the tale of their journey.
Unique among “voyage around the world” books, reaction of my friends
and family upon hearing me summarize Half-Safe’s voyage was, more often
then not, to deny that such a voyage was possible. Indeed the Carlins
found the same problem during their voyage, and sometimes found it
difficult to get the publicity and sponsorship their voyage deserved.
But it is true: Half-Safe, a souped-up amphibious Ford jeep,
purchased surplus after the war near Washington, DC, carried the Carlins
on land and on sea, and therein allowed them to work around the usual
need to “ship the Land Rover across the Atlantic and then pick up the
trip” that characterizes most if not all other round-the-world
The impetus for the trip was, like most others, the result of a dare.
Carlin, an Australian, was in India during the war working as a Field
Engineer. He relates in the opening chapter, still in India at the close
of the war in 1945:
It took Carlin five years to get to America, locate, modify, test and
refine the jeep, find and marry his wartime sweetheart, and make his way
to Halifax for departure.
Halifax did not fare well in the eyes of the Carlins:
Once the major voyage-ending bugs were worked out of Half-Safe’s systems
— and there were a large number of them, mostly involving different
methods for carrying fuel — the Carlins set off for the Azores from
Halifax on July 19, 1950.
Their plan was to head for Flores; they arrived there 32 days later,
having travelled through a hurricane, the jeep pummelled almost to the
breaking point, having suffered tremendous seasickness (especially
Elinore) and, one would imagine, testing their marriage severely.
From the Azores they steamed to Madeira, and then made land at Africa
at Cap Juby before driving overland through Agadir, Casablanca,
Gibraltar, Lison, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Denmark, Sweden, London and
finally Birmingham, where they arrived on New Years Day, 1952.
Despite their adventures at sea, the voyage overland was perhaps more
challenging that the one over sea, mostly because of the variety of
borders to cross, breakdowns of the jeep, and the need to hold shows to
raise money to support the trip.
The Carlins weren’t rich, and although there was some sponsorship
from a North American magazine, and the promise of more from other
sources, not more than once they were down to their last dollar and had
to pawn their movie camera, or sell surplus fuel to continue on.
Carlin is a witty writer, and the book is a rollicking good tale of
adventure, and contains considerable technical details of their voyage.
While the voyage the book relates ends in England, Carlin did, in fact,
continue onwards from there, and
helpful Australian website contains a brief summary of that voyage.
The tale of this second leg of the voyage is available as The Other
Half of Half-Safe, which can be purchased from Carlin’s alma
Guildford Grammar School,
which has a
devoted to Carlin’s adventures. The school is also the final resting
place of the jeep Half-Safe where it is, says the school, “displayed
prominently within the grounds.”
Interestingly, Carlin’s second voyage took place at the same time as
the Oxford and Cambridge Far
Eastern Expedition, although, as
commentator notes, “So, there were two overland expeditions in
southern Burma at the same time. Both expeditions wrote up their
adventures, yet neither mentions the other.”
Carlin continued on around the world, and ended up back in Montreal
on May 12, 1958, almost eight years after starting out.
I purchased Half-Safe used from a bookseller in the U.S. using
abebooks.com. It is out of print,
but many other used copies are
available for sale there.