A lasting memorial to almost 200 years of unbroken service to the Crown by Gurkha soldiers has been given the royal seal of approval.

The Princess Royal unveiled a ceremonial stone monument known as a Chautara bearing the regimental badges of every Gurkha unit since 1815 in memory of the dead, at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

About 400 former and serving soldiers from the modern-day British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas heard glowing tributes to the fallen, who were described as "the most wonderfully brave and kind people".

Down the years, the Gurkhas have earned battle honours from Gallipoli in the First World War to more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fighting men, recruited from the rugged Himalayan country of Nepal, have a reputation as hard and loyal fighters, and are known for the trademark curved kukri blades they carry sheathed on their belts.

For the attendant veterans, it was a proud moment as retired officer Hombahadur Gurung explained.

"It is a great honour for all the Gurkha, myself and all my comrades," said Mr Gurung, who served in the Gulf War with 2 Gurkha Rifles.

"The years of service are a matter of great pride for me. I hope it continues into the future."

The memorial, built mainly of local sandstone and unveiled at Alrewas, took two years to build with the assistance of soldiers from 22 Signal Regiment, who are based in nearby Stafford.

As part of the unveiling, shrews were released into the memorial stonework to bring good fortune.

The small creatures are synonymous with the Hindu deity Ganesha, who is venerated in Nepal.

Squadron Sergeant Major Suresh Limbu, of 30 Signal Regiment, said the unveiling was the start of a series of events marking next year's anniversary.

"Coming here is very important," he said.

"It is a proud thing to serve, and always has been, to be in the Brigade of Gurkhas, joining from the Himalayan country. It is one of the proudest moments, to be able join the British Army."

The man whose idea it was to create a memorial was Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gopsill, a veteran of the unforgiving jungles of Burma and Indochina in the Second World War.

Mr Gopsill said: "It is absolutely wonderful to have Princess Anne here, and also to remember the sacrifice of these men.

"We owe so much to the Gurkha - there's a great danger they could be forgotten."

He also paid tribute to the men's fighting ability on the battlefield and their kindness off it.

"We were in Burma, Indochina, the Dutch East Indies - the fighting and killing, it seemed like it would never stop, but eventually it did, and we came back for a bit of peace and quiet," he said.

"But with the Gurkha, you got a real person wherever you went.

"I took my wife to Nepal, where they live, and the family matters enormously to them.

"It is a hard life for them but they are the most joyous and kind people I have ever met."

Mr Gopsill, who also fought in the Malaya Emergency, said: "I think the messages will go back from the Gurkha here today, when they are on leave in their villages, and they will tell them about it.

"The people there will be thrilled that we are thinking of them here."