The son of Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Travers Birdwood and Dora Davis, he was educated at the Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, a Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Surgery. Birdwood served in the Indian Medical Service and fought in the Second World War. He reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and received the Military Cross. From 1945 to 1947, he was Commander of the Military Hospital in Bannu in India. In 1962, Birdwood was High Sheriff of Devon, in 1963 Mayor of Bideford and in 1964 Justice of Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Devon. He was further a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians.