The only democratic ruler of Russia before the days of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and supposedly Vladimir Putin is buried beside Wimbledon Common. Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970), who died exactly 42 years ago this week, was brought from exile in New York to a grave at Putney Vale Cemetery after being refused a Russian Orthodox funeral in America.

The extraordinary story of Wimbledon’s most unexpected deceased resident was concluded by his two sons who both lived in Britain. In life, Kerensky was hated both by the Communist regime which had overthrown him in Russia in October 1917, and by the émigré Russian Orthodox Church in America which blamed him for overthrowing the last Tsar a few months earlier. To provide a permanent resting place, his sons Oleg (1905-1984) and Gleb (1907-1980) had his body flown to London and buried at the non-denominational Putney Vale.

Kerensky was the son of a secondary school headmaster whose pupils included the young Vladimir Ulyanov - better known later as Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union. Members of the Kerensky and Ulyanov familes were friends. However, as Alexander Kerensky was about to graduate in law from St Petersburg University, Lenin, who had earlier done the same, was plotting the overthrow of capitalism from exile in London and elsewhere outside Russia.

Kerensky soon gained a reputation for defending militant opponents of the despotic Tsar and was himself jailed for a short while. However, he was elected to the Russian Duma (Parliament) in 1912. When the Tsar abdicated in February 1917 amid the chaos of the First World War, Kerensky became Minister of Justice in the new Provisional Government, then War Minister and eventually Minister-President, declaring Russia a democratic republic. He was criticised by the military for his liberal policies, including supporting soldier committees against officers and abolishing the death penalty. It did him no good. His forces were defeated by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in October. After months spent in hiding, he escaped to London in 1918 and soon moved on to Paris.

He was already separated from his first wife Olga (1886-1975), who came from a distinguished family of academics and soldiers. She and their sons escaped to London in 1921 with false passports. There she eventually became secretary to Frank Soskice, Attorney General under the Labour Government of Clement Attlee. The boys both took degrees in engineering, graduating in 1927. Oleg became a renowned builder of bridges and helped construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge in1932. A CBE in 1964, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1970 and won the Gold Medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers in 1977. Gleb was a distinguished hydroelectric engineer who served in the Royal Engineers in the Second World War. From Paris, Alexander Kerensky campaigned against the Communist regime in Moscow until 1940 when the Nazi invasion of France forced him to flee once again, this time to the US where he remained for most of the rest of his life. During the Second World War he made broadcasts in Russian in support of the embattled Soviet population. His second wife, an Australian journalist, died in 1946. After that he settled in New York but also taught graduate classes in Russian history at Stanford University, California, as well as writing and broadcasting extensively on Russian politics.

The last drama followed his death at a New York hospital on 11 June 1970. Neither the Russian nor Serbian Orthodox churches would agree to a religious funeral service. He also remained persona non grata in the Soviet Union. So his grave can now be seen beside Wimbledon Common.