Uncle Michael at Dunkirk


My mother sent these two photos that are thought to include my Uncle Michael Albert Astley Birtwistle at Dunkirk. If it is him then he’s the one with the moustache and cigarette. The location is right as it was taken at Bray Dunes by Humphrey Spender and that’s where Michael had mentioned he was. His wife (my aunt) and his oldest son (my cousin) also think it is him. Not sure how we verify this now, but I have included his Obituary from the Ampleforth Journal below. he actually wasn’t the oldest of 8 children, but was the oldest boy. As an aside my mother mentioned that the only time she ever saw her father was cry, was when they’d had a call from the son of a her family friend who had also been at Dunkirk to say that Michael was also safe. She said she could see tears rolling down his face which he hid behind the newspaper he was reading.

Col Michael Birtwistle TD DL KSG
Michael Albert Astley Birtwistle born 20 April 1920 Pleasington, Lancashire; Ampleforth Prep School 1929-30; Gilling Castle 1930-31; Junior House 1931-333; St Wilfrid’s House 1933-38; Commissioned East Lancashire Regiment (TA) May 1939; Indian Army 1941-45 – Gurkha regiments; severely wounded in Central Burma March 1945; War Office 1945; Birtwistle & Leigh 1946-64 [Chief Executive 1959-64); United Kingdom Textile Manufacturing Association – Deputy Chairman 1958-64; Viyella International 1965-67; Courtaulds Ltd 1968-82 [Deputy Chairman 1980-82]; Burnley Building Society 1980-83 [Director]; National & Provincial Building Society 1983-90 [Director]; appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire 1976; High Sheriff of Lancashire 1978-79; Knight of St Gregory 1983; married Glen Craig 1950 (3 children) ; died 10 May 2005

Michael was the eldest of eight children of James Astley Birtwistle and Muriel (nee Marwood). Although his father was not a Catholic, he not renege on his marriage promises so all eight children were brought up in the Faith by his Mother who was a strong Lancashire Catholic whose faith, as she said, was that of the shepherds and not of the wise men. Michael was imbued with a strong faith initially by her and then by the monks at Ampleforth, especially Fr Stephen Marwood and Fr Columba Cary-Elwes. His Mother’s four brothers went to Ampleforth – Basil (OA01), Cyril (OA02), Reggie (OA07, died 1950) [Fr Stephen Marwood] and Gilbert (OA09) – so it was natural that Reggie and his three brothers should also go there – Edmund (W42), David (E43, died 1998) and Anthony (E46). Michael went to Gilling under Fr Basil Mawson ( ), then Junior House, and on to St Wilfrid’s under Fr Clement Hesketh and then Fr Columba Cary-Elwes, who had a great influence on him and became a lifelong friend. Michael captained the 2nd XI and XV, often playing for the first team, and was a good runner as well. He was Head Monitor in his last term.

On leaving Ampleforth he worked at his late maternal Grandfather’s Crown Cork firm in Blackburn and at the same time joined the TA, being commissioned into the East Lancashire Regiment. At the outbreak of war he was called to the colours and during the “phoney war” moved around to various locations in the UK where he guarded these places with antiquated and ineffectual weapons. In Spring 1940, his regiment went to join the BEF in time to join the evacuation at Dunkirk, where he showed much gallantry and was mentioned in Dispatches (many of his brother officers considered he should have had a much higher award). After some time in England he decided to go to India where he joined the 7th Gurkha Rifles under General Bill Slim. His Company was planning to attack a Japanese held village near Mriktila and Michael was up with The Gunner OP. The first salvo landed on the OP killing the artillery officer and nearly killing him – he was badly wounded and was flown to base hospital by a brave American airman.

The other momentous event in India was meeting his future wife Glen Craig, whose brother Derek (B45) was killed on Sutton Bank on Goremire Day 1945. Glen was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) and worked for Peter Fleming in South East Asia Command.

After the war Michael joined the Birtwistle family textile firm and eventually rose to become managing Director; he presided over the negotiations with Vyella who took over the firm. He continued to work for the new firm for a few years before joining Coutaulds.

Michael joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Yeomanry as a Squadron Commander and eventually commanded the Regiment and on retirement became Hon. Colonel DLOY. He was a keen countryman and enjoyed shooting. He immersed himself in the County of Lancashire and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant in 1976 and was High sheriff in 1978-79.

Michael was blessed with a very happy marriage and was devoted to his wife Glen and their sons Mark (W70) and Jeremy (W72 – now living in Australia, but with two sons at Joey’s, St Joseph’s College in Sydney, having close association with Ampleforth) and to his daughter Deborah.

Michael was a keen Amplefordian especially with regards to cricket and his visits there were always eagerly awaited for his great generosity. Many of the community were friends, such as Fr Anthony Ainscough, Fr Denis Waddilove, Fr Terence Wright and others.


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