An extract from CLOTHING from Guineys book of bollix.
The name "balaclava" comes from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea (now Ukraine). During the Crimean War, knitted balaclavas were sent over to the British troops to help protect them from the bitter cold weather. This spurred the troops onto victory. A similar scenario at the battle of 'Mitten' in the Scottish highlands ended in disaster when the British soldiers ,freezing in the Scottish hills ,were issued with a new type of glove made in great haste -hence only having an individual space for the thumb alone ,the rest of the hand and fingers being trapped in the same woolly pocket.The gloves were named 'Mitten' (or those fuckin' bastardin' useless gloves) after the terrible battle there where British soldiers were routed due to not being able to position their mitten bound fingers on the trigger of their rifles.
I was unfortunate enough to be issued with a balaclava as a schoolboy and it did indeed keep you warm and cocooned from the world ,covering as it did your entire head including ears and all your peripheral vision.This however ,though having the advantage of thermal retension,made crossing the road like a game of Russian roulette as you could neither hear, nor barely see, the traffic.I was run over several times before the age of 10. Luckily out of the 10 accidents I was only killed twice, the other tmes escaping with broken limbs, decapitation and mild abrasions.
Also, as we were poor and mammy had already splashed the cash on the balaclava ,mittens were only to be dreamt of.Instead we went to school with just the string running through the sleeves of our coat to which normally would be attached a pair of mittens.If challenged by rich kids we merely feigned shock that our cashmere mittens had disasterously fallen from the strings.