Born in Northwich, Cheshire, Birtwistle was educated at Sir John Deane's College (then SJD's Grammar School).
Birtwistle completed his officer training at the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, and upon receiving his commission was posted to 1 Training Regiment and subsequently to 1 Commonwealth Division Signal Regiment. He was mentioned in dispatches for his service in the Korean War.
Promoted to Major General in 1979, he was appointed Chief Signal Officer BAOR, and a year later Signal Officer-in-Chief (Army). He was awarded a CB in 1982, and retired from active service a year later.
Birtwistle was married, with two sons and a daughter.
- "Telegraph Announcements". http://announcements.telegraph.co.uk/deaths/96311/birtwistle. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
- "The Journal of the Royal Signals Institution". pp. 59–60. JSTOR 2011. https://royalsignals.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/RSI-Journal-Spring-2011.pdf. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
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